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Kent State Inks Stricklin, Birkbeck To Contract Extensions

KENT, Ohio – Eighth-year Kent State baseball head coach Scott Stricklin signed a contract extension through the 2016-17 academic year while 15th-year associate head coach/pitching coach Mike Birkbeck signed through 2014-15, Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen announced Thursday (Feb. 2).

A winning percentage of .648 (267-145 in seven seasons), four NCAA Regional berths, four Mid-American Conference Tournament titles and three regular season conference crowns have highlighted Sticklin’s tenure. He has also represented his country and collegiate baseball, serving as an assistant coach for USA Baseball’s 2011 Collegiate National Team.

Stricklin has developed his student-athletes into standouts both on the baseball diamond and in the classroom. A total of 22 Kent State baseball players have been selected in the Major League Baseball Draft under Stricklin. Off the field, the team has registered back-to-back perfect 1,000 scores the last two seasons in the NCAA’s Academic Performance Rate report, while the team’s grade-point average has risen from 2.35 in spring 2004 to 3.20 in fall 2009 – the best in program history.

Stricklin, 39, garnered 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Mideast Region Coach of the Year and MAC Coach of the Year honors after leading Kent State to its finest season in program history. He earned Region Coach of the Year honors for the first time in his career, becoming just the second Kent State skipper to garner such recognition and first in 18 years. Former Flashes manager and current Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall was named Region Coach of the Year following the 1992 and ’93 campaigns.

Kent State, which finished the 2011 campaign ranked No. 26 in the nation according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, won both the MAC regular season and tournament championships and captured a berth in the 2011 NCAA Championship Austin Regional. After earning the program’s first-ever national tournament No. 3 seed, Kent State tallied an 11-inning 4-2 win over Texas State and followed it with a 7-5 winner’s bracket final triumph over regional host and No. 5-ranked Texas to earn the school’s second-ever berth in a regional final. The Flashes became the first squad to win three straight MAC Tournament crowns and first since 2005 to win the conference’s regular season and tournament titles in the same season. Kent State’s mark of 45-17 matched the 1992 squad for most victories in program history. Eight Golden Flashes earned All-MAC selection — the most during Stricklin’s tenure — while five members of the 2011 Kent State squad were selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Birkbeck has tutored 22 players who have gone on to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft, including Andy Sonnanstine, who helped the Rays advance to their first ever postseason and World Series appearances in 2008. Against the Chicago White Sox in game four of the division series, Sonnastine recorded the win in Tampa Bay’s first ever postseason series victory. Also among former Flashes who were drafted, Matt Guerrier ’99 (Twins), John VanBenschoten ’01 (Pirates), Dirk Hayhurst ’03 (Padres) and Sonnanstine ’04 (Rays) have appeared in the major league. In addition, he has mentored 21 All-MAC, 11 All-MAC Tournament, 12 All-Region and seven All-American honorees.

The 2011 campaign was perhaps the Kent State pitching staff’s best under Birkbeck’s watch. The Golden Flashes occupied all four pitching spots on the NCAA Mideast Region First Team after the unit ranked sixth in the nation in team ERA with a 2.66 mark.

Left-handed starting pitcher Kyle Hallock, who was also a Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I Third Team All-America selection, was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 10th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft with the 292nd pick. He closed his career out with the second-most career strikeouts (237) in school history. He also ranks third in career innings pitched (297.0), fifth in career pitching wins (22) and seventh in career pitching appearances (65). He was named the 2011 MAC Pitcher of the Year, becoming the ninth Kent State arm to garner such distinction. He finished his senior campaign with a 10-4 record, tying for the second-most wins in a single season in Kent State history and ties him for 23rd in the country in pitching victories in 2011. Hallock’s 106.1 innings pitched and 88 strikeouts rank second and tied for sixth, respectively, in a single-season for the Golden Flashes while his ERA of 1.95 is the 10th-best in a single season in school history and ranks 29th in the nation this season. He chose to return to Kent State for his senior campaign after being picked by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 49th round of the 2010 draft and was appointed as one of Kent State’s co-captains for the 2011 season.

Southpaw starter Andrew Chafin, who was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 43rd pick in the compensatory first round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, finished the 2011 campaign with an 8-1 record, posting 105 strikeouts over 89.0 innings en route to earning First Team All-MAC and All-MAC Tournament Team selections. Chafin’s 2011 strikeout total ranks as the third-most in a single season in the Kent State record books and was tied for the 33rd-most in the country in 2011, while his 10.62 strikeouts per nine innings was good for 18th in the nation. His 2.02 ERA ranked 36th in the country, and he was named to the 2011 NCAA Austin All-Regional Team after outdueling Texas right-handed top-15 draft pick Taylor Jungmann in the winner’s bracket final of the Austin Regional. He fanned eight over 8.2 frames to power the Golden Flashes to a 7-5 triumph over the No. 5-ranked Longhorns on Texas’s home field.

Right-handed closer Kyle McMillen, earned Louisville Slugger Third Team All-America, First Team All-MAC and Academic All-MAC Team honors after finishing the 2011 season tied for the NCAA lead in saves with a team and conference single-season record of18. He led the team with a 1.80 ERA, which was the eighth-lowest in team history. His 22 career saves match Gus Hlebovy (2001-03) for the third-most in school history. McMillen, who was selected in the fourth round (141st overall) of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox was a finalist for the seventh annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award.

Left-handed starter David Starn, the 2011 MAC Tournament MVP and a First Team All-MAC pick, tied Sonnanstine (2004) for the most strikeouts in a single season in school history with 117, which was tied for the 16th-most in the nation in 2011. He went 2-0 in two starts in the 2011 MAC Tournament, striking out 15 and allowing just two earned runs on 10 hits in 14.1 innings en route to garnering MVP accolades. He also ranked 48th in the nation with a 2.18 ERA and will enter his senior campaign with the Flashes tied with Guerrier (1997-99) for third in school history in career strikeouts with 220. Starn will Kent State’s ace in 2012 and was named a 2012 Louisville Slugger Third Team Pre-Season All-America selection, as announced by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

Right-handed relief pitcher Justin Gill signed as undrafted free agent with the Houston Astros following the 2011 campaign, finishing his collegiate career as Kent State’s all-time pitching appearances leader with 97 and tied for fifth all-time with 11 saves. He was named MVP of the 2010 MAC Tournament, striking out six batters in 7.1 innings of relief work over three elimination games.

The Golden Flashes open the 2012 season Feb. 17-19 at the Rock Hill Coca-Cola Classic, taking part in a four-game round-robin tournament against Georgia Tech and host Winthrop.

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