|Falcon baseball faces key series (04-24-14)|
|Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor|
|Thursday, 24 April 2014 10:06|
Bowling Green's baseball team is overcoming a slow start.
The Falcons have won 11 of their last 14 games entering this weekend's Mid-American Conference series with Kent State at Steller Field.
The teams play single games Friday at 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We're been very consistent in all three phases (pitching, defense and hitting) and that's huge," said Falcon coach Danny Schmitz, whose team began the season 6-16.
"Our guys are playing with confidence and they're finding ways to win."
BG has a chance to improve its standing in the MAC East Division against Kent, which leads the East with an 11-4 record and is 26-13 overall.
Akron is second in the East at 9-6, followed by Buffalo 8-6, and BG and Miami at 8-7.
The top eight teams in the MAC, regardless of the division, qualify for the conference tournament. BG and Miami are tied for sixth overall.
"This is a big test," said BG junior shortstop Brian Bien, who is fifth in the MAC with a .362 batting average.
BG has won five straight games overall and is 8-3 in its last 11 MAC games.
"We can climb in the standings by winning the series or maybe even sweeping," Bien said. "If we lose, we can drop back. It's a big weekend."
IMPROVED: The Falcons are much improved defensively this season after making 100 errors in each of the last two seasons.
BG has just 54 errors in 36 games this season, including only 16 errors in 15 MAC games.
"We're starting to play a little cleaner and not making mental mistakes," Bien said. "We're a lot more experienced, and it's a matter of staying focused and having better concentration. We're not having those mental lapses that cost you games."
Joining Bien on the infield are Brandon Howard at third base, Logan Walker at second, and T.J. Losby and Jeremy Shay at first.
"The guys realize we're going to win and be successful with pitching and defense," Schmitz said. "You have to be able to shut down the opposition and not give them extra outs. When you do, it usually comes back to haunt you because you're really going to have to pound the ball to play over those mistakes.
"That's the way we've always built our teams. Pitching and defense win championships."
OFFENSE: The Falcons are fourth in the MAC with a .281 batting average. They've totaled 52 runs on 69 hits during their winning streak.
"Our offensive production has been increasing, that's been a big factor in our success, and our approaches at the plate have been better," Bien said.
Losby is seventh in the MAC in hitting with a .352 average.
SURPRISE: Schmitz called Howard a "pleasant surprise."
The redshirt junior is hitting .333 with 10 stolen bases and just three errors. He batted .258 last season and .230 in 2012 after missing most of his freshman season with a broken foot.
"Until this year, he hadn't put it all together," Schmitz said. "He's doing a nice job at third base and he's given us a spark offensively with the way he's swinging the bat and with his speed."
PITCHING: BG's Mike Frank, who will start Friday, has pitched well with a 5-5 record and a 3.31 earned-run average. The team's top relievers have been Jason Link (2.40) and Ethan McKenney (3.22).
KENT: The Golden Flashes lead the MAC with a .292 batting average, while ranking second in ERA (3.52) and fourth in fielding percentage (.970).
Kent's Zarley Zalewski's .392 average tops the MAC, while pitching Eric Lauer leads the conference with a 2.04 ERA. He's 7-2 and is expected to start Friday.
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