Kent State pitcher Starn enjoying 'crazy' ride
David Starn will be the starting pitcher for the biggest game in the history of Kent State baseball.
The games, the stages and the stakes keep getting bigger, and Kent keeps giving the ball to the guy who showed up four years ago without a scholarship and has come so far that the Atlanta Braves drafted Starn earlier this week in the seventh round.
"It is a little crazy," Starn said. "The good kind of crazy."
Kent State's kind of crazy run – the Flashes have won 20 straight games – continues Saturday night (11 ET) in Eugene, Ore., in the first of a best-of-three Super Regional against Oregon, the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
The winner goes to Omaha next week for the College World Series.
That would be really crazy.
A savvy left-hander who became Kent State's all-time strikeout leader last month, Starn has plenty of big-game experience. He started the first game of the MAC tournament a little more than two weeks ago, giving up just two hits over eight innings. He went the first six innings and left with the lead in Kent State's memorable 21-inning win over Kentucky in the regionals last week, and he takes the ball Saturday in what's sure to be a hostile environment in the Flashes' first-ever Super Regional game.
"He's just been Mr. Consistency," Kent State pitching coach and longtime major-leaguer Mike Birkbeck said. "I say knock on wood, but we don't worry much about David. He's consistent every time he goes out there and gives us a chance to win. He commands the game."
Birkbeck said the Flashes prefer to work their young pitchers slowly, and when Starn joined the program as a walk-on in the fall of 2008, he wasn't exactly in the plans.
That changed quickly as Starn got stronger, more confident and proved he could keep top competition guessing.
"I've learned so much from (Birkbeck) and the guys who pitched here when I was younger," Starn said. "One thing about this program, it gets the best out of you. I've just tried to learn at every chance."
Starn said he grew up loving baseball but wasn't sure he'd ever play it at a high level. A native of Hudson, Ohio, just 10 miles or so from Kent, he played for the Brownlee's and Ohio Arsenal travel teams growing up. He said he picked Walsh Jesuit for high school only after being approached to give it a shot, then played on the junior-varsity team as a freshman before moving into the rotation for one of Ohio's powerhouse prep baseball programs.
Walsh won state titles when Starn was a sophomore and a senior. As a senior, his current Kent State teammate Tyler Skulina would pitch the first game in Ohio's back-to-back format for district, regional and state tournaments, and Starn would pitch the championship games.
Skulina provided the power, and Starn brought precision and breaking pitches.
"David throws harder now, certainly, than he used to," Birkbeck said. "He has a little better command.
"I scouted him the summer before his senior year of high school. His fastball probably was 79-81 mph, but he had tough arm slot for hitters to see (the ball). He had good breaking ball and change-up. But it's the way he goes about it that makes him special.
"He studies. He works. He battles."
Starn had interest from college programs throughout Ohio but chose Kent State, even without a scholarship, because of the program's winning tradition and reputation for getting the most out of its pitchers.
As a freshman, Starn got the final out to keep the Flashes alive in the Arizona State regional against Cal-Poly.
"It was a fastball, outside corner," Starn said. "I got him looking. He wasn't thinking fastball."
Starn said he's never been a power pitcher, "and that's probably why I didn't get many looks out of high school." He's worked tirelessly on his craft since, and the Flashes have reaped the rewards.
"It didn't take him long to get on scholarship," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "He's just been so good, so consistent. He carries himself like a veteran. He's meant so much to this team."
Late Saturday night, Starn gets a chance to further his legacy.
"We're living the dream," Starn said. "People know about Kent State baseball now. The secret's out. We want to keep this thing rolling."