COLLEGE BASEBALL

Kent State baseball coach Duncan, assistant Birkbeck extended

Kent State University Head Baseball Coach Jeff Duncan and Associate Head Baseball Coach Mike Birkbeck each agreed to a three-year contract extension that will run through the 2022 season, Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen announced Tuesday, June 25.

Duncan has continued Kent State's winning tradition, extending the program's streak of 30-win seasons to 21 years. He has led the team to two Mid-American Conference Tournament titles (2014, 2018) and back-to-back-to-back regular season conference crowns 2016-18.

"Jeff has continued the winning tradition of Kent State baseball, leading the team to conference championships in four of his six seasons while Mike has been instrumental in the team's success for the past 23 years," said Nielsen. "Jeff and the coaching staff have consistently recruited top-tier athletes that are successful both on the field and in the classroom and we are excited to have them continuing to lead our baseball program."

Duncan, named MAC Coach of the Year three consecutive seasons from 2016-18 and the 2018 Chuck Tanner Coach of the Year, surpassed 200 career wins at Kent State this past season. In his six seasons at the helm, he has coached 35 All-MAC performers, six All-Americans and nine All-Region players. Of the 45 players drafted under Duncan's watch, 15 have been selected in the top-10 rounds.

"I want to thank President Warren, Joel Nielsen and the entire Kent State family for supporting our outstanding student-athletes and for giving me the opportunity to lead this great program," Duncan explained. "I also want to thank my wonderful coaching staff Mike, Derek (Simmons) and Tony (Caldwell) for doing a great job recruiting and developing such great men. We have amazing student-athletes in this program and we will continue to grow together."

In 2019, Duncan led the Flashes to a 30-24 season, dropping just two conference series throughout the season. The offense led the MAC with 54 home runs and a .447 slugging percentage. Freshman Justin Kirby was named MAC Freshman of the Year and earned Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American honors and redshirt sophomore Ben Carew was placed on the All-MAC First Team and Defensive Team while also earning NCBWA Third Team All-American honors. Carew became the first Flash to turn in a .400 batting average since 2001 and Kirby belted three home runs in a single game for the first time since 2005 in Kent State history.

The baseball team has matched its on-field success in the classroom with Duncan at the helm, seeing 11 players earn Academic All-MAC honors in each of the last four seasons. In 2019, Carew and senior Kian O'Brien each earned Google Cloud/CoSIDA Academic All-District accolades.

Mike Birkbeck completed his 23rd season on the coaching staff and 15th year as associate head coach in 2019. Since his first year in 1997, Birkbeck has been responsible for Kent State's pitching success as the top five team strikeout totals for a single season in Kent State history have all come under Birkbeck's watch (2012, 2018, 2011, 2009 and 2017). His staffs have also set two of the lowest season ERAs in school history.

"I would like to thank President Beverly Warren, Joel Nielsen, Trent Stratton and Jeff Duncan for their continued support and for affording me the opportunity to continue serving Kent State University, the Athletic Department and the baseball program," Birkbeck said. "I am looking forward to and am excited for what's to come in the future for Kent State Baseball."

The Golden Flashes have won 10 MAC regular season titles, 10 MAC Tournament crowns and have appeared in 10 NCAA Regional Tournaments during Birkbeck's tenure. In 23 seasons, Kent State has won 838 games, averaging 36 wins per year.

Birkbeck has worked with 55 student-athletes who have been drafted or signed into professional baseball, including 2011 first round draftee Andrew Chafin and 2016 fellow first rounder and National Player of the Year Eric Lauer. Seven of his former hurlers, Matt Guerrier '99 (Twins), John Van Benschoten '01 (Pirates), Dirk Hayhurst '03 (Padres), Andy Sonnastine '04 (Devil Rays), Chris Carpenter '08 (Cubs), Chafin '11 (Diamondbacks) and Lauer '16 (Padres) have all appeared in the major leagues. In addition, he has mentored 39 All-MAC, 18 All-MAC Tournament, 11 All-Region and 13 All-American honorees.

Kent State athletics


June 25, 2019