The Kent State University baseball team made it to Omaha, Neb., home of College World Series. It was the first appearance in the history of the program. In fact, it’s the first time the team has made it past the regional level.
After a slow start to the season, the Golden Flashes got hot and won 21 games in a row, the longest winning streak in college baseball. That ended in their second game of the super regionals when the University of Oregon won, but it made for an even more exciting walk-off single in the ninth inning to win the series and head to the world series, where they would beat Florida State University, the No. 1 team in the nation.
Perhaps the best part of this Cinderella story is that the 34-player roster is that 27 of them are from Ohio, including David Starn from Hudson, Ryan Mace from Tallmadge and Michael Clark from Akron. We caught up with them last night to ask a few questions about the game and their incredible season.
The players: David Starn, 22, pitcher and Walsh Jesuit High School (Cuyahoga Falls) grad; Ryan Mace, 21, pitcher and Tallmadge High School grad; and Michael Clark, 21, pitcher who attended Archbishop Hoban High School, McKinley High School, and American Heritage School in Florida
What’s the first memory you have of baseball?
Starn: It would have to be playing catch with my dad out in our backyard. He always caught me.
Mace: Playing in my backyard with my three older brothers growing up. I was real little, like 5 or 6.
Clark: I always played outfield when I was little so it’s probably playing for Boys of Summer, which was a summer league team in the Cleveland area.
Do you play any baseball video games?
Starn: I’m not a big video game person, but I have played.
Mace: No, I don’t like any sport video games.
Clark: Oh yeah, "MLB 2K12," "MLB 12: The Show." Just about any baseball game I play.
Are you better on video games or the real game?
Starn: I’d probably say I’m better in real life than I am in the video game.
Clark: I’m a pretty serious gamer. Definitely better on the video games.
Do you have any game day preparations or superstitions?
Starn: I have a superstition where in between innings when I’m pitching I can’t wear my hat or I can’t wear it in the dugout so I just take it off and put it down.
Mace: There’s a lot of stuff. I just have to do the same stuff every time. In between innings, I have to put my glove and my hat in the same spot, and I have to sit in the same spot every inning that I come in.
Clark: I have a small routine, pretty normal, just shower before you play. It relaxes you.
Was there ever a time you wondered whether you should play or a time where it might’ve been easier to quit?
Starn: Freshman year was pretty hard coming into a new scene and everything. I never thought I was going to quit, but it got pretty hard. But then I overcame it. It became home then.
Mace: Not really.
Clark: Out of high school, football was my main sport so I had to make a choice. I chose baseball. I love it. It’s cool to a be part of something special like at Kent State.
What has the Golden Flashes journey been like for you?
Starn: It’s been a heck of a ride. There’s been so many different memories that I’ve had in each year. I’ve made so many great friendships along the way, even in other schools, too. All these guys are my best friends. We’re just a big family, so it was a great journey.
Mace: It’s been awesome. I’ve made it to four regionals, one super regional and now the College World Series. I’m not going to say we had an easy way to the world series. Just getting there was awesome.
Clark: A lot of ups and downs. We struggled early in the year. We just kept playing, kept coming together as a team, and we got hot at the right time.
Can you tell me about the support you’ve received from the community and what it has meant to you?
Starn: Everybody has our back, and they’ve been nothing but supportive and nice to us. Even when we’re walking down the street they recognize us and say “Congratulations.” It’s good that we have the Kent State family and even the state of Ohio on our side.
Mace: I didn’t know how big of a deal it was to everybody until we got back. We were on the road for basically three weeks straight and haven’t seen anybody from back home. Right when we get back, there’s people waiting for us and congratulating us and then ). I’ve walked around with a College World Series shirt on when we got back, and people would just randomly stop me and ask me about it.
Clark: I have family members I didn’t know I had messaging me saying congratulations, they’re all backing us, everybody’s watching us. Friends that I have at Ohio State said they’d be at a restaurant or out at a bar and everybody down at the bar was just rooting for Kent State, which was pretty cool. We pretty much had all the state of Ohio behind us.
Is there a story from this season you might one day tell your kids?
Starn: Probably just the whole trip to Omaha. It’s going to go down in history in Kent State sports. I won’t even have to tell them. They’ll know. That’ll be a great story to tell.
Mace: Maybe just how bad our season started this year because we weren’t very good and then we won 21 games in a row and that just got us going. At the beginning of the year, I thought we were a bad team, we had no chance of even winning the MAC. It all changed once we got into the MAC. So I’ll probably tell them don’t quit, it can all turn around in a hurry.
Clark: Probably the 21-inning game against Kentucky. That was pretty unbelievable, historical.
Do you plan to pursue playing baseball professionally?
Starn: I’m leaving tomorrow. (Editor’s note: Starn was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the seventh round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Draft.)
Mace: Obviously, I’d like to, but we’ll see what happens in the next month or so.
Clark: Yeah, eventually. When I think I’m ready, I’ll go to the next level and play there. (Editor’s note: Clark was drafted in the 20th round by the Houston Astros.)
Anything you’d like to add?
Clark: Be ready next year when we continue.