The drama that unfolded during the Kent State University baseball game at Oregon in the Super Regional on Monday night extended beyond just Eugene, Ore.
Televisions were tuned into ESPNU in many area homes, including the Diestel and Kaczmar households.
Jim Diestel of Archbishop Hoban and Chris Kaczmar of Walsh Jesuit were two of the area high school coaches who closely watched Game 3 of the Golden Flashes’ series against the host Ducks.
Both coaches have players on the KSU team whom they mentored in high school, and both were overjoyed when Flashes senior shortstop Jimmy Rider doubled to left in the bottom of the ninth inning to score sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine and secure a 3-2 triumph and a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“It was exciting,” Diestel said. “I kind of jumped out of my seat and into the air. My kids thought I was kind of crazy. They were like: ‘Geez, Dad, are you a little excited? And I said to them: ‘That was awesome.’ ”
KSU (46-18) will meet Arkansas in the College World Series on Saturday. The Golden Flashes and Razorbacks are two of the final eight teams in the NCAA Tournament.
KSU’s roster features several local players, including senior left-hander David Starn and sophomore right-hander Tyler Skulina, who are both Walsh graduates and the Flashes’ No. 1 and No. 3 starting pitchers.
Sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (GlenOak), freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Triway) and junior center fielder Evan Campbell (West Branch) are regular starters, and sophomore Troy Summers (Minerva) is a key reserve.
Junior right-hander Casey Wilson (Hoban), freshman left-hander Brian Clark (Stow) and senior right-hander Ryan Mace (Tallmadge) are valuable relief pitchers along with sophomore left-hander Michael Clark, who formerly played at Hoban and Massillon.
“Clearly it is very exciting and as corny as it sounds, I am just as excited to watch Casey Wilson as I am Tyler Skulina, who beat us a couple of times,” Diestel said. “They made a good deal most of the time [on television] that most of the kids on the team are from Ohio, which I think is great.”
Starn and Skulina are also joined on the roster by another Walsh graduate, freshman left-handed pitcher Tim Faix.
“Those three young men, I love them like sons,” Kaczmar said. “I was on the edge of my seat the other night during Game 3 against Oregon. I felt like I was in the dugout. Watching Tyler on the big screen is truly just a thrill and hearing them mention Walsh Jesuit on ESPN is very humbling.
“Those three players continue to represent our program, Kent State University and the game of baseball. They are tremendous ambassadors to the game of baseball overall. I am so excited to have this going on locally, and I am thrilled for coach Scott Stricklin and coach Mike Birkbeck.”
Diestel also praised Stricklin and Birkbeck for KSU’s postseason run, which includes wins over Kentucky and Purdue.
“I think they have been the team in Ohio for the last 20 years or so,” Diestel said. “Scott Stricklin deserves a lot of credit. So does [former coaches] Rick Rembielak, Danny Hall and Bob Todd. Each guy took the program another step. Mike Birkbeck is arguably the top college pitching coach in the country, and before him they had Dick Schoonover as the pitching coach.”
Alex Loftin, a 22-year-old Stow resident, just completed his collegiate career at the University of Akron and pitched against KSU in a 2-1 Flashes win.
“They have a really good philosophy at Kent State,” Loftin said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for the players and coaches at Kent State.
“I watched a couple of the games [against Oregon]. I played against a lot of the guys through high school and college. I am buddies with several of them, including Brian Clark and David Starn. I am happy for their success, and obviously I wish I could be part of something like that. Brian was the little bat boy for three years during summer ball when we were younger. Now he is [6-foot-3 and 210 pounds] and towering over me.”
Freshmen John Birkbeck (GlenOak), Blake Bellman (Northwestern), Tommy Monnot (GlenOak) and Dan Kopcak (Streetsboro) have also seen playing time as reserves.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.