A solo home run by senior right fielder Summer Knoop was all third-seeded Central Michigan needed to send No. 2 Kent State to the losers’ bracket in a 1-0 Mid-American Conference Tournament victory Thursday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
Knoop, batting ninth for the Chippewas (30-18, 15-7 MAC), hit a third-inning homer that was the first hit that Golden Flashes sophomore starting pitcher Emma Johnson gave up.
Johnson pitched effectively, giving up six hits and two walks and striking out five in her seven innings.
She worked efficiently, too, staying ahead in the count by generating first-pitch strikes to 28 of the 31 batters she faced, but dropped to 20-11 with the loss.
However, her counterpart outdid her.
Central Michigan senior Kara Dornbos tossed a shutout, allowing three hits, three walks and striking out four to improve to 14-11.
“[Dornbos] is a very good pitcher,” KSU coach Karen Linder said. “Besides Emma, I believe she’s one of the top two or three pitchers in the conference. She’s a senior and she did a great job.”
The issues that plagued the Flashes (27-20-1, 16-6) were hit sequencing and sacrifice bunt efficiency.
The Flashes got their leadoff runner on base in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, but failed to bring them home every time.
This was largely a result of going 0-for-4 in advancing base runners with sacrifice bunts. One of them resulted in a double play when Chippewas third baseman Trista Cox doubled Chloe Kesterson off first base.
“We did a very poor job of executing bunts,” Linder said. “It’s something that we struggled with early in the season. Lately, we’ve been doing a better job, and then tonight, I think with the excitement, they put them down a little too hard. That was the difference in the ballgame.”
Linder had no intention of straying from her game plan. The Flashes are not built on power. Their season home run leaders, Kim Kirkpatrick and Lauren Balodis, have only three each.
“It was just the circumstances,” Linder said. “The right people weren’t up to bat in order to [swing away]. We are not a home run hitting team. We’re the type of team that we’ve got to get a runner on second so we can drive them in with a single.”
Junior second basemen Abbey Ledford was the only KSU player to reach base twice, drawing a leadoff walk in the second and singling to lead off the fourth.
Senior center fielder Macy Merchant singled three times atop the Chippewas lineup.
Kent State will take on Ohio University at 1:30 p.m. today in an elimination game at Firestone Stadium.
The Flashes split their season series with the Bobcats, winning 2-1 and losing 8-0 in a doubleheader March 29.
“You play to win,” Linder said. “That’s what I just got done telling them. Tomorrow, we go and try to put it all together. We had three and a half of our four phases there. We just have to bring the offense and string things together. I’m very much looking forward to playing an Ohio University team. [After] the last time we played them I wanted another opportunity to go up against them.”
At 5 p.m. today, Central Michigan will face Northern Illinois, which is coming off an upset of top-seeded Ball State.