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No surprise: Lane thrived Year 1 at Kent State

Mark Hazelwood • Jun 26, 2018 at 8:00 AM

KENT — As it turned out, the 2018 college baseball season was full of surprises for Ryan Lane.

As a freshman pitcher on the powerhouse Kent State University team, Lane didn’t appear until game No. 15 of the season for the Golden Flashes in a relief role.

That was on March 18. Then, 10 days later, the 2017 New London graduate found out through Twitter he was making his first-ever career start — at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

“I was really shocked, because I figured I would just redshirt or something,” Lane said. “When I finally got my first relief appearance, I made an error before I got an out and thought ‘well, this isn’t going too hot.’

“At Notre Dame, we were at the bookstore before the first game and I was told I was starting, but only three innings,” he added. “I was just shocked, because I figured I would go straight to the bullpen — especially after that first appearance. It felt normal, but still kind of strange to be a set starter, only because I didn’t figure I would be.”

In that March 28 start, Lane threw three scoreless innings with four strikeouts and two walks. He allowed three hits. On April 10 at the University of Pittsburgh, he started and picked up his first win.

In the 4-1 Kent win, he allowed one earned run on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 5 1/3 innings of work. After not appearing for five weeks, Lane made his collegiate debut with one run over eight-plus innings on the road against two ACC teams.

“It was really cool,” he said. “At the time I didn’t really think about it, but when I think back it’s pretty neat. (Pitching coach Mike) Birkbeck tries to throw you in the fire to see how you do.”

Lane went on to make three more regular season starts for the Golden Flashes, who ran away with the regular season and tournament Mid-American Conference championships.

But none of the early season surprises prepared Lane for what happened on a 104-degree day in Texas on June 1.

Facing Louisville in the first game of an NCAA regional in Lubbock, Texas, the Golden Flashes sent ace Joey Murray to the mound. But the Cardinals pounced on Murray and Kent for seven runs in the first inning.

And sure enough, next into the fire was Lane.

“Again, I figured I would just keep the pitching charts as a freshman in an NCAA tournament game,” he said. “We didn’t have an out yet, and I got told to go to the bullpen and I looked to our catcher and thought, ‘Whoa, this is actually going to happen.’”

Lane entered the game in the second inning. He pitched the next three innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits with a strike and a walk. Fellow freshman Tyler Drabick followed, and the duo was able to keep things within range as Kent pulled within 10-5 at one point in the 13-6 loss.

“Coach Birkbeck called down what felt like 10 times asking if I was ready,” Lane said. “I told them I was fine. Then I go out there and give up a hoe run, so maybe I’m not fine. After that, I just settled in.

“My job was to eat innings, but after seeing the heart of their order two or three times, it was time to come out,” he added. “It was a good experience. I was glad we were able to keep it in range, which is good to see for the years upcoming. I hope to get more consistent from here on.”

Overall, Lane appeared in seven games (five starts) for the Golden Flashes, who finished 40-18 and won an NCAA tournament game. He finished with a 3-0 record and a 2.55 ERA.

Lane allowed seven earned runs on 23 hits with 19 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 2/3 innings of work. In 99 at-bats, he limited hitters to a .232 batting average against him.

He is currently pitching in the Northwoods League, a wooden bat league for college players, in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s made just two appearances through June 19, as the Bucks had already played 12 games by the time Lane joined them from the NCAA tournament run.

This past season was a big jump from New London and the Firelands Conference for Lane, though he had already faced plenty of big-time competition over time with summer travel baseball schedules.

“I didn’t surprise myself in terms of performance,” Lane said. “I’ve thrown against some good hitters and knew I could get people out. But it was a matte row striking them out.

“It’s not as easy to just blow it by guys in college,” he added. “I’ve had to learn how to pitch to contact. It helped that I could pick up on that quickly. You just have to adjust and learn you can’t strike guys out like that all of the time.”

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