PHOTO: Nick Mullens/WOUB

Ohio Baseball: ‘Cats Relinquish Six-Run Lead, Fall to Kent State

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ATHENS – After three innings Saturday, the Ohio Bobcats (14-26, 8-9) held an 8-2 lead over Kent State (21-19, 9-6) and looked well on their way to evening the three-game weekend series and tying the Golden Flashes for fourth place in the Mid-American Conference.

Then things unraveled for the green and white.

After scoring one in the fourth and adding a two-run top of the fifth, the Golden Flashes exploded for seven runs in the top half of the sixth. After two singles and a walk to start the inning that chased Ohio starter Jack Liberator, Michael Turner blasted a grand slam over the left-center field fence off reliever Braxton Kelly to put the game in Golden Flash hands. Kent would add three more hits in the inning and took advantage of three Bobcat errors to swell its lead to 12-8.

Kent State would continue to pile on before ultimately winning 18-11, as the Golden Flash lineup teed off on the Bobcat pitching staff. The victory gives the Golden Flashes five straight victories and a two-game cushion over Rob Smith’s squad for fourth place in the conference.

“We clearly had difficulty getting their guys out and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Their hitters are locked in. I’ve been calling pitches for a long time at this level, and you know when you’ve run into an offense that’s locked in,” Smith said.

After trailing 2-0 before recording an out in the series opener, the Bobcats struck first Saturday with an RBI single down the left field line by Rudy Rott. Sebastian Fabik padded the lead in the bottom of the second with a two-out, three-run homer to give Ohio a 4-0 lead. After the Golden Flashes put up two runs in the third, Ohio responded with a four-run bottom half thanks to four walks, a hit by pitch, a wild pitch and a two-run double by Fabik.

While the Bobcats used eight walks from Kent starter Trevor Pittman to propel their offensive attack, it was a hit parade for the Golden Flashes. Jeff Duncan’s club outhit the Bobcats 20-7, as seven Kent hitters had multi-hit afternoons. Seven of the eight Bobcat pitchers that took the mound surrendered at least one earned run, including Liberator who allowed seven earned runs on 11 hits in five innings of work.

18 is the largest number of runs given up by the Bobcats this season. Kent outscored Ohio 16-3 from the fourth inning on, as no pitching change made by Smith was effective in shutting down the Golden Flash offense. Kent put up five to seal the victory in the eighth inning off the strength of two RBI doubles off the wall by Alex Ronnebaum and Justin Kirby and a two-run homer by Ben Carew. Turner reached on an error that scored the fifth and final run of the inning.

While Kent flexed its offensive muscle, Smith said that the Bobcats can’t afford to make four errors and give an offense as good as Kent’s more opportunities.

“I’m very disappointed in our defensive play. We’re just not a good defensive team right now,” Smith said.

The only bright spot offensively after the third inning for Ohio came on a three-run blast from Trevor Hafner. The junior infielder’s first round-tripper of the year wasn’t enough to get the Bobcats back in it, as they dropped their 11th game of the season at Bob Wren Stadium.

Ohio will look to avoid a sweep Sunday at 1 p.m. as the Bobcats try to stay in the thick of the MAC Tournament race.