SAN DIEGO—In a matchup between two teams that entered the season with high hopes but entered Week Two winless, San Diego earned its first win in Fowler Park in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion, beating Kent State 2-1 on Friday.
Aces Tyler Skulina of Kent State and Michael Wagner of USD went head-to-head in a fine pitching duel, keeping the game scoreless through six innings. The Golden Flashes got on the board in the seventh on Evan Campbell’s solo homer to right, and Skulina left after 95 pitches with a 1-0 lead through eight innings. But Dillon Checkal sparked USD’s ninth-inning rally with a leadoff walk against closer Eric Dorsch, and Dillon Haupt doubled into the left-field corner to score the tying run. Two batters later, A.J. Robinson fell behind in the count against lefty Brian Clark, but he went the other way with a breaking ball for a walk-off RBI double into shallow left field, prompting the Toreros to mob him near second base.
“He knew he was going to get that offspeed pitch away, away, away, and he just fought it off,” San Diego coach Rich Hill said. “Great at-bat.”
Skulina, a 6-foot-6 junior who ranks as the top prospect in the Mid-American Conference, was masterful for eight shutout frames, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. He threw strikes with his 88-93 mph fastball as well as his tight 80-84 slider, and mixed in some low-70s curveballs for a change of pace. I’ll have a midweek feature on Skulina coming soon.
Wagner, who ranked second in the nation with 19 saves last year, proved he is up for the challenge of competing against another marquee Friday night starter. He gave up just the lone run on six hits and two walks while striking out five over seven innings. Wagner had three quality pitches going: an 88-90 fastball with good arm-side run, a sharp 81-84 slider with good depth and an excellent 82-83 changeup. He used the changeup effectively against righthanded hitters as well as lefties, keeping the Flashes off balance.
“The changeup, I feel like, that’s his plus pitch,” said Haupt, USD’s catcher. “The slider’s good too, but the changeup is filthy. Not a lot of people think it’s coming, so when they see it, it’s just like a freeze pitch. No one squares that up ever, and no one swings at it, either.
“I think he was just a little more comfortable tonight. His offspeed was working a little better, and when you can throw your offspeed for strikes, your fastball’s just that much better. He kept people off balance tonight. That was the best start I’ve seen from him, ever.”
One area of concern for both teams is defense up the middle. Both teams got shaky shortstop play—USD from Logan Davis, Kent State from Derek Toadvine. Davis made two errors, Toadvine made one, as both players struggled to field routine grounders cleanly. Certainly Kent State will miss departed first-team All-American Jimmy Rider at short, and Toadvine still needs to prove he can handle the position after playing second base last year. San Diego has been searching for answers in the middle infield for the last two years, and don’t be surprised if Chris Woolley gets a shot at shortstop soon.