Omaha, Neb. - Kent State coach Scott Stricklin has made it to the College World Series as the head coach of his alma mater and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is doing it for the third time.
Stricklin's alma mater is also the place he met his wife -- just as Van Horn's wife, Karen, also attended the the University of Arkansas.
Now the two coaches, who have expressed respect for one another, will face each other in the first round of the College World Series on Saturday. Van Horn said he enjoyed being around the Kent State skipper when they coached together last summer, but the things that he learned about him as a coach makes Van Horn a bit apprehensive about the upcoming match-up.
"I truly believe by being around Scott for approximately a month this past summer, I learned a lot about him and his personality, his make-up and the way he runs his club," Van Horn said. "I got to really watch Scott in action. He throws a good batting practice, he's fun in the dugout and he's also intense in the dugout.
"Is it going to help us prepare more for his team? The only thing that has helped me with is I know how intense and how much he wants to win and that always makes me a little more nervous."
While the tenth-year Arkansas coach said he has kept track of Kent State's success for several years, he specifically complimented the Golden Flashes' progression under Stricklin.
"It's not like Kent State came out of nowhere," Van Horn said. "They've been pretty good for a long time, and Scott's taken them to another level.
"I remember before the selection show, I was
talking to the coaches at the tournament and I said 'one team you don't want to face in a Regional is Kent State because they're up there, they have a chip on their shoulder, they play hard, and I just had a lot of respect for Scott."
The two ball clubs have a fair share of similarities as well. Arkansas and Kent State are two of the three teams that had to win both the Regional and Super Regional away from home to make it to Omaha.
Kent State is also just one of two teams from the northern part of the United States, joining Stony Brook in Omaha. Stricklin said he hopes the Golden Flashes will be an inspiration to other teams in the north more than being a "Cinderella" team.
"We heard some northern coaches and some northern conferences talking about the disadvantages that we have before the season," Stricklin said. "Well, we all know that, but the north is the north, the south is the south and the weather is not going
"What we've been able to do and what Stony Brook has been able to do is keep our local players home, keep the best players close to home, and develop a toughness about ourselves. We're thrilled to represent the north, and we hope
it opens a lot of doors for some other schools."
Kent State has 27 players from Ohio and seven players from Western Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, Hudson, Ohio native David Starn start for the Golden Flashes to counter Arkansas' DJ Baxendale. Starn is a senior walk-on who became the all-time strikeouts leader at Kent State.
"We did not offer him a scholarship," Stricklin said of Starn. "He won the state championship in high school, but he was throwing 79 to 81 miles an hour.
"About a month later, David ended up winning the state championship, cleaned things up, pitched really well, and we offered him a walk-on spot. You can say we're really smart for taking him, but we're really lucky because he could have gone anywhere. He chose us and we're fortunate as he's the most decorated pitcher in Kent State history."
Van Horn foresaw Kent State's toughness
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