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by Allen Moff | Reporter
Streetsboro graduate Dan Kopcak lived a dream on the diamond this season.
The junior right-handed pitcher played a prominent role on a perennial college baseball power that is right in his backyard.
Kent State University, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Flahes advanced for the fifth time in the last six years by capturing the Mid-American Conference tourney title last month.
Unfortunately, the Golden Flashes' stellar season came to a close when they lost a 4-2 decision in the NCAA Louisville Regionals.
Kopcak mowed down all 10 hitters he faced to earn the save in the Flashes' second MAC tourney contest, a 4-3 victory over top-seeded Ball State.
"What we saw from Kopcak (at the MAC tourney) is just about as good as you can get," veteran Flashes pitching coach Mike Birkbeck said. "Remarkable."
Kopcak overcame near lottery-like odds just to get a spot on the Kent State roster.
"Danny's a remarkable story," Birkbeck said. "He came to our open walk-on tryout that we have the first week of school every fall. He didn't even come his freshman year. He came out his sophomore year."
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Kopcak was a first-team All-Portage Trail Athletic Conference hurler for the Rockets in 2010, but no one believed he was college material back then.
"I never really got looked at in high school," he said. "I'm small now, but I was very small in high school. It helped that I grew five or six inches and gained 50 pounds."
That growth spurt rekindled Kopcak's interest in baseball.
"I quit baseball earlier and decided I missed it, so I went and played summer ball and thought I did pretty well, playing against college players," Kopcak said. "I decided to come to a tryout and did pretty well, then ended up getting an extended tryout. I just never really looked back from there."
Birkbeck remembers being intrigued by what he saw in Kopcak during those tryouts.
"It was interesting," he said. "He had a low, slingy arm slot, probably threw 84 miles per hour but was loose and gangly. I remember telling [former KSU coach Scott Stricklin] to come down and take a look at this guy and see what you think. We actually asked Danny to come back two days later to see if he could re-create it, and he did."
Kopcak was given a roster spot for the 2012 season and wound up throwing 13-23 innings for the best team in Kent State history.
"I never thought my first year of [college] baseball would end up [at the College World Series]. The whole year was just amazing. I wasn't a big part of the pitching staff, but I was able to travel and did get some time."
Although Kopcak did not see action in the postseason that year, he walked away from that 2012 campaign more motivated than ever.
"I just kept getting bigger and stronger and training more to get to where I am today," said Kopcak said.
Kopcak, whose fastball consistently hits the lows 90s, made 16 appearances out of the bullpen last year, recording a 4.30 earned run average and two saves -- coming in back-to-back games against rival Akron.
He was already enjoying his best year ever in 2014 before he was called upon in a critical situation in Game 2 of the MAC Tournament against Ball State, a team that had just roughed him up a couple weeks earlier.
The Flashes were clinging to a 4-3 lead when Kopcak entered the fray with runners on first and third and two outs. He proceeded to go the rest of the way, notching his first save of the year.
Kopcak retired 10 straight batters, three by strikeout, and no batted ball left the infield.
"Something about that day I just wanted the ball, wanted to give the team the best shot at winning," Kopcak said. "I guess you call it in the zone."
Now as a prominent member of Kent State's bullpen, Kopcak is looking to get his first shot at pitching in the NCAA tourney.
"I really want to make my mark, especially in the postseason, because I didn't get that opportunity a couple years ago," Kopcak said.
And Kopcak is all about taking advantage of opportunities.
"He has made the most of the opportunities that he's been presented," Birkbeck said. "We're all really proud of him."