We recently had a chance to have a Question and Answer session with Kent State Head Coach Scott Stricklin. He is entering his third season with the Golden Flashes. He has also been an assistant coach with Georgia Tech under former Kent State Head Coach Danny Hall for the 1998 and 1999 season as a volunteer assistant coach before moving to Vanderbilt where he worked as the pitching coach for two seasons. He then went back to Georgia Tech in July of 2001 where he stayed until July of 2004 when moved on to become the Head Coach at Kent State.
1. Andrew Davis had a great year batting .376 in 56 games last season but Kent State lost most of their position players. What players have stepped up to fill these holes?
We lost a lot of offense off of last year's club. There is no question that losing Emmanuel Burriss, Joe Tucker, Drew Saylor, Kurt Eichorn, and Todd Balduf will raise some serious questions about our offensive capabilities. However, we had several freshman that got significant playing time last year. We expect Brad Winter, Chris Tremblay, Ryan Mitchell and Jason Patton to all step up and be leaders. Greg Rohan sat out last year due to an injury and he should hit in the middle of our order. Junior college transfer Doug Sanders will hit near the top of the order and we expect big things from him as well. Andrew Davis is the back bone of our team and he will hit in the three hole. Will Vazquez is our only other senior position player and he will be our everyday catcher. Freshmen Jared Bartholomew, Brandon White, and Anthony Gallas should contribute as well.
2. Kent State returns most of the pitching staff from last year including starters Alan Morrison and John Pacella. They also return a solid closer in Ryan Davis who had 14 saves in 2006. Are there any players expected to compete for a weekend spot in the rotation?
There is no question that our strength will be our pitching staff. We did lose Chad Wagler who was our number one starter a year ago but we feel like we have a lot more depth in year's past. Our weekend rotation is still question because we are waiting to see how Chris Carpenter and Evan Smith come back from injury. Carpenter was a 7th round draft choice out of high school and looks like he is returning to that form. Evan Smith has been in and out of our rotation for the last three years. Steven Ross has been impressive early on and will be our number one starter to begin the season and I see no reason why that will change. JJ Pacella has been very consistent for us and he will be in the mix as well. We also have Morrison, Dominique Rodgers, Steven Davis, and freshman Kyle Smith competing for a weekend starting role. Should be interesting to see who steps up the next couple of weeks.
Our bull pen will be very strong as we return all of our key components from last year. Ryan Davis was outstanding for us in the closer's role and Reid Lamport, Jason Seelman, and Rodgers are all back as set-up guys. When you add freshman Robert Sabo, Jon Pokorny, and Brad Stillings to that mix, we feel very good about what our pitching staff can accomplish this season. Another pleasant surprise has been Ryan Steele. He is a converted catcher who has dominating stuff. he just needs to gain some more experience on the mound.
3. Scott, What do you think is the biggest difference between coaching at Kent State when compared to other schools you have been at like Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt?
The are certainly some differences between Kent State and Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt. The biggest difference is probably on the recruiting side. At Tech and Vandy, we recruited on a national scale while at Kent State, we focus on the talent in the state of Ohio. There is also the weather factor. We practice in our indoor fieldhouse until we can get outside. The ACC and SEC schools are outside when they begin practice in January. Obviously, the ACC and SEC are tougher conferences than the MAC. However, the programs in the Mid-American Conference have all made increased commitments to baseball and I think there is no doubt that we are improving as a whole. We have new stadiums at Central Michigan, Ohio University, Miami of Ohio, and Kent State. Look for the MAC to get two teams in the NCAA tournament very soon. When we get that accomplished, we need to find a way to get to a super regional. That will go a long way toward earning more respect for our conference nation wide.
4. The uniform start date goes into effect next season, How will that affect your team in the future? In 2007, you will not have a home game until March 20th which is over a month into your season.
The start date really will not affect us much. This year we started practice on January 23rd indoors. Next year we will begin February 1st. We move our opening weekend back one week. What many northern schools are looking to do in the future is to play four game series or tournaments on early season weekends. I think you will find the southern schools receptive to this because they will have to add a lot of mid week games to their schedules if they do not. Currently, most southern schools like to spread their games out so they are only playing one mid week game. It really puts a lot of strain on your pitching staff when you consistently are playing five games per week. The big difference is that mid-week games do not happen up north until mid March at the earliest. The southern schools can get some mid week games in right away.
5. What team in the MAC will provide the biggest challenge for your team this season?
The MAC is a toss up this year. There are several teams that will contend for the title. Central Michigan returns the most form last year and is the pre season favorite. Miami (OH) has a couple of very good arms in their starting rotation that are capable of beating anyone. Eastern Michigan has the reigning pitcher of the year in Jeff Fischer pitching for them on Fridays and Western Michigan has freshman All American, Ethan Hollingsworth, returning to the mound for them. Ball State is in the same position as us. We both lost a lot of offense and we need some young guys to step up.
6. What player or coach have you enjoyed working with the most?
That's a tough one. It's difficult to single out one individual in particular. However, one player that really stands out is Jonathan Douillard from Vanderbilt. He was catcher that was actually the first commitment I ever received as a recruiting coordinator. He was the type of player who always worked hard and was a tremendous team leader. It was no surprise to see him behind the plate when Vanderbilt broke through and made the regionals a few years ago. The program took huge strides in the four years he was there and he was a big reason for it. He made everyone around him better and he never took a day off. I just really loved coaching the kid and had a lot of respect for him.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Steve for taking the time to help out the site by answering some questions. We are trying to set up some more interviews with some more head coaches to talk about the upcoming season. If anyone has any questions or comments about the site feel free to contact me.