June 12, 2012


Stricklin: No Flash in the Pan

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Sean@CollegeBaseballInsider.com @collbaseball


Danny Hall wasn’t really looking for a catcher.


But a local high school coach tipped off Hall – then the head coach at Kent State – on a kid named Scott Stricklin (left) from tiny The Plains, Ohio, just outside of Athens. Stricklin’s high school coach told Hall that everyone expected the catcher to go to Ohio University, where his dad had played football. Stricklin, however, was upset that a pitcher on his team at Athens High School got a better offer from Ohio.     


So, Hall, from Coolville, Ohio, about 20 miles from Athens, asked his dad to go take a look.


“My dad said: He can really catch and throw; I don’t know how much he’s going to hit,” said Hall, the longtime coach at Georgia Tech, Monday night.


Thus began a special relationship. Stricklin played for Hall at Kent State and assisted him at Georgia Tech.


And now, Stricklin joins his mentor and former coach as a College World Series coach, guiding Kent State to a 3-2 win over Oregon Monday night to capture the Eugene Super Regional.


“That was amazing,” Hall said. “I’m so happy for him. It was gut-wrenching for me when Oregon got two there in the eighth, and they brought the closer in. It looked like all the momentum was on their side.”


As it has the past two months, Kent State found a way to get it done, scoring a run in the bottom of the ninth on a Jimmy Rider floater down the left-field line.


The Golden Flashes, who started the NCAA tournament by winning a 21-inning thriller against Kentucky, have won 22 of 23 after three one-run affairs with the Ducks, the loss coming to Oregon by the same score the night before. Of the six games Kent State has played in the tourney, five have been decided by one run with the Golden Flashes winning four of them, including another 3-2 win over Kentucky to win the Gary Regional.     


Greg Rohan, a former Kent State star who now plays for the Daytona Cubs, was on the field at the same time his Golden Flashes were becoming the first MAC team since 1976 and the first team from Ohio since 1970 to reach Omaha. He was getting updates on the game from pitchers who weren’t playing.


“I’m surprised, but I know the type of guys who lead the team right now,” Rohan said while on the team bus after a game in Tampa. “I’m surprised, but I’m so pumped. I can’t put it into words.”


Growing up about 45 minutes from Kent in North Lima, Ohio, Rohan always wanted to attend Kent State. He was a freshman when Stricklin arrived at Kent State eight years ago after spending three seasons as the recruiting coordinator under Hall at Georgia Tech.


“From his first day on campus, he got everyone straight on his goals and what our goals would be,” Rohan said.


Rohan praised Stricklin and assistants Mike Birkbeck (14 years) and Scott Daeley (7) for their leadership and always being there for him when he had a question or was unsure about something. The fact the staff has been together for so long is “one of the best things about Kent State.” Stricklin and Daeley work well off each other, according to Rohan.


As for Stricklin, the coach of the hour?


“He’s just a hard-nosed guy,” Rohan said. “He knows how to get the most out of every single player that he has.”


The same can be said about Stricklin the player.


When Stricklin arrived at Kent State – his recruiting visit was the same weekend as future Major League pitcher Brian Anderson, who ultimately chose Wright State – he was a backup to a junior catcher named Greg Beals, now the coach at Ohio State.


“Scott was always a hard worker and an intense guy, those are the things I can recall,” said Beals, who spent nine years as a Golden Flashes assistant and eight years as head coach at Ball State before joining the Buckeyes in 2010. “I see these same qualities I saw as a player as a coach.”


Beals left after his junior year to play professionally with the New York Mets organization, opening up the starting catching job for Stricklin.


With Stricklin behind the dish, Kent State won MAC titles in 1992 and 1993 and traveled to Regionals in Tallahassee and Baton Rouge. Over those two years, the Golden Flashes ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in ERA.


“He was literally like a coach on the field,” Hall said. “He pretty much called all the pitches. He ran the games. It was pretty easy to tell that once he finished up playing baseball, he had a future as a coach.”


After five years of Minor League ball – he reached Triple-A with the Twins organization – Stricklin joined Hall’s staff as a volunteer for the 1999 season. He then went to assist Roy Mewbourne at Vanderbilt for two seasons.


While at Vandy, Stricklin was able to lure a fellow Ohio native – a lefty pitcher named Jeremy Sowers – to Nashville. Hall credits Stricklin with getting the Vanderbilt program going in the right direction.


He rejoined Hall in 2002, when the Yellow Jackets won a school-record 52 games and advanced to the College World Series. His hitters – including Victor Menocal, Matthew Boggs, Jeremy Slayden, Eric Patterson and Matt Murton – batted .330 as a team that year. As recruiting coordinator, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball ranked his recruiting class, which included Micah Owings, Tyler Greene and Jason Neighborgall, No. 1 in the nation.


“Number 1, he’s a great evaluator and a great recruiter,” Hall said. “He’s a great communicator, he’s a great coach, he has the whole package.”


Hall recalls the Yellow Jackets needing a catcher and at a time when all the Perfect Game tournaments were taking place, Stricklin called and said, “I found our catcher.” The switch-hitter from South Carolina who idolized former Tech catcher Jason Varitek was Matt Wieters.


“And he got him, we pried him out of there,” Hall said.


When Kent State coach Rick Rembielak took the head job at Wake Forest, Stricklin was offered and accepted the job at his alma mater.


All Stricklin has done in eight years is guide the Golden Flashes to five NCAA Regionals, including each of the past four. And after pushing Texas to the limit in the Austin Regional last year, Kent State has pushed its way to Omaha.


“Nobody had them picked to go to Omaha,” Beals said. “Is it a surprise? Yeah, a little, but it’s not shocking to me.”


As a fellow alum and former coach at Kent State, Beals said he’s very happy for Stricklin and his staff, adding that the Flashes are a very well-coached team.


“I took a bunch of text messages from former players and coaches,” Beals said of Monday’s epic win. “Everyone is ecstatic about what they’ve done this year.”


Rohan said that watching the Golden Flashes win the Gary Regional brought him back to his playing days at Kent State.


“I’ve talked to more alumni and former teammates in the past week than I have the past few years,” said Rohan, who graduated in 2009.


Some of those teammates were with Rohan that first year eight years ago when Stricklin arrived. Among those goals Stricklin set for the Golden Flashes: one day going to Omaha.


Rohan remembers fondly Stricklin bringing the team together at the end of practices, encouraging his players to huddle up and say “Omaha” on three.


“That seems like a long time ago,” Rohan said. “They’re really doing it.”


(photos courtesy of KSU Media Relations Office)