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 Avon Lake's Nick Hamilton and Avon's Josh Pierce. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about the game and this incredible season.
The players: Josh Pierce, 20, pitcher for the Flashes and graduate and Nick Hamilton, 22 third baseman and designated hitter for the Flashes and grad.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: What's the first memory you have of baseball?
Josh Pierce: It’s crazy to remember but probably learning how to play in my uncle’s backyard with my dad, throwing, hitting. I was three or four.
Nick Hamilton: Being in my backyard when I was 3 years old. My mom and dad would both pitch to me. When my dad was on the road, my mom would and vice versa. Just something I always loved to do since I could pick up a bat. I can’t really remember a time in my life when baseball wasn’t a part of it.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Do you play any baseball video games?
Pierce: I do. I play MLB 2K12.
Hamilton: I do occasionally.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Are you better on video games or the real game?
Pierce: I don’t know if I could play a perfect game right now. I’m pretty sure I could on a video game, so I’d say video game right now.
Hamilton: I’m a bad video game player. I just don’t spend enough time on it, so I’m going to have to go with real life.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Do you have any game day preparations or superstitions?
Pierce: I have the same playlist I have to listen to before every game. If we’re on the road, I have to play Call of Duty with Tyler Skulina before the game. When we take infield and outfield, I’m always the last pitcher that takes the fly ball, something we do. Just one of the things you feel comfortable you just have to do before each game.
Hamilton: No, I don’t have any real superstitions. I do have a bit of a same-day routine. I like to take some extra swings in batting practice. I like to listen to some country music. Just about after that, I do what the team’s doing and be mentally focused to play.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Was there ever a time you wondered whether you should play or a time where it might’ve been easier to quit?
Pierce: A few years back, in high school, there were some times when because of the situations I wasn’t pitching. I got a little discouraged. I considered the words that I never thought would come out of my mouth: I hated the game. But I got with the right people after that and back to loving it.
Hamilton: There’s never been a time where I wanted to quit or anything like that, but there’s certainly been times where I wondered am I doing the right thing to maximize my ability and it’s certainly frustrating when you don’t feel that way. But no, I’ve never wanted to quit, I love it too much.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: What has the Golden Flashes journey been like for you?
Pierce: It’s been a blast. These guys are by far the best group of guys I ever played with. We’re a real close-knit group, have a lot of fun together. We just find a way to win. That’s the most fun part; we love winning.
Hamilton: Incredible. There really is no word to describe it. It’s one of those dream come true things, and it really came out of the blue. It’s been a whirlwind if anything. It all happened so fast. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of and come back and be able to see how excited everybody at Kent State is.
Avon-Avon Lake: Can you tell me about the support you've received from the community and what it's meant to you?
Pierce: It’s meant a lot I know for me and I’m going to say for all of us just because of all the people that have supported us from here, back in my hometown, my friends, family. I met a lot of people I never knew before, supporting us, watching every game. It means a lot to us because now you have that support, that extra fight to just go out there and play for them too.
Hamilton: It’s meant a lot to us. It’s been a lot of extra motivation as far as just to make everybody proud that’s following us just from home or came out to Omaha.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Is there a story from this season you'll one day tell your kids?
Pierce: The 21-inning game against Kentucky. It’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of, arguably the greatest game in college history. I know it’s the second longest but with the stuff that happened, it was absolutely unreal. You don’t know if something like that is ever going to happen again. That’s something we’ll all be telling our grandkids’ kids.
Hamilton: Probably the last play in Oregon when Jimmy Rider hit that single. We all came out and rushed over right away.
Avon-Avon Lake Patch: Do you plan to pursue playing baseball professionally?
Pierce: I do, I mean, if it’s in the plan for my life. That’s definitely something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I have some control over it as far as my work ethic and how I develop my skills and what not. But it’s really all up to fate to see how it goes.
Hamilton: I was drafted by the Indians. I won’t be playing senior season of college ball, but I will be taking classes and finishing up my degree eventually.