BELLEVUE, Neb.: Every game he has pitched of late has been the biggest in Kent State history.
But Tyler Skulina, the sophomore right-hander from Walsh Jesuit, seemed unruffled about his starting assignment at 8 tonight against two-time defending champion South Carolina in an elimination game in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
“If I try to do too much, it’s not going to be good,” Skulina said. “I’ll stay within myself and let my defense work behind me.”
Skulina will draw on what he learned pitching game 3 of the best-of-three super regional against Oregon on June 11. He shut out the Ducks for 5⅔ innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out four.
“It was pretty crazy, a lot of people there, especially after they won that Saturday game,” Skulina said Tuesday after practice at Bellevue East High School. “I think it was louder there than at Ameritrade because everybody was so close. It was a good atmosphere to set me up for tomorrow.”
Skulina (11-2, 3.63 ERA) also earned the victory in a 3-2 victory over Kentucky in the Gary, Ind., regional final, striking out five in seven innings. In two NCAA appearances, he’s 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA.
“I feel great about him,” KSU coach Scott Stricklin said of Skulina. “He’s been unbelievable for us. To go into Oregon and pitch like he did, it was remarkable.
“It’s been good for him to watch the first two games and see the atmosphere and feel the tension and feel the anxiety. I think he’ll turn that into a positive.”
Skulina is thrilled that his mother, Heather, a medical transcriptionist, and 24-year-old sister Amanda are driving from Strongsville to watch him pitch. They rode the Josh Cribbs-sponsored bus to Saturday’s CWS debut.
Junior catcher Jason Bagoly left early Tuesday to attend funeral services for his mother, Cheryl McHenry, who died suddenly Thursday at age 50.
The wake was scheduled for Tuesday, with the funeral at 11:30 a.m. today at the Higgins-Reardon Funeral Home’s Austintown Chapel and at noon at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
Bagoly told the Omaha World-Herald that if the Golden Flashes win tonight, he hopes to return for Thursday’s 9 p.m. game. He said he gathered the team and told them that after Monday night’s 5-4 upset of No. 1-ranked Florida.
“Hopefully that’s a little extra motivation,” Bagoly told the World-Herald. “I want to get back to Omaha and be a part of this even longer.”
Taking over at designated hitter against the Gators after not playing since May 24, Bagoly went 2-for-3, igniting a three-run second inning with a sharp single up the middle.
“When he got that first hit off a 95-mph fastball, our dugout erupted. I think he gave us a lot of energy,” Stricklin said.
In the seventh, Bagoly just missed a home run, launching a double to the 375-foot sign in right center. Coming in, he hadn’t had a hit since May 15.
“When I got nervous, I found myself saying, ‘C’mon Mom. Give me some strength,’ ” Bagoly told the World-Herald. “It helped me. I found some extra confidence because I knew she was here.”
Stricklin said he talked to Bagoly and Nick Hamilton, the DH he benched for Bagoly, before the game.
“I asked Jason how he felt. He said, ‘I stayed here because I want to play and I want to contribute.’ I had a feeling he was going to do something,” Stricklin said of Bagoly, who is 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. “The wind was blowing out to left and he’s our biggest, strongest guy. That last at-bat I thought the ball was going to go out of the park.”
As for Hamilton’s reaction, Stricklin said, “Nick said, ‘Coach, I understand and I’m going to be cheering on my teammates.’”
Bagoly was lifted for a pinch-runner after his double. Stricklin said if the Gators had tied the game or taken the lead in the ninth, Hamilton was going to hit in that spot in the bottom of the inning.
Stricklin said it was “most likely” Hamilton would return to the DH role against the Gamecocks.
Florida’s Cody Dent, who pinch-hit in the cleanup spot in the top of the ninth and managed to sacrifice bunt on a 3-2 pitch, is the son of former New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent. … KSU actually made ESPN’s top 10 plays twice Monday night, with T.J. Sutton’s catch in right field in the first inning against Florida ranking No. 9. Sutton is a sophomore from GlenOak. Center fielder Evan Campbell’s sixth-inning dive was No. 2.
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