Wright State dropped its winner-take-all baseball game to the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames on Saturday, 5-2, and will take the No. 2 seed into next week’s Horizon League tournament. UIC will host the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The Raiders had taken the first two games of the series and had to sweep to win the regular season conference title. Stress and adversity arrived in multiple forms throughout the series, but even though the final game was lost, the team grew closer, pitcher Zane Collins and coach Jeff Mercer said.
“In the last two games we became more of a team and we’ve grown a lot,” said Collins, who worked the first five innings, giving up two earned runs while fanning five.
Center fielder Zach Weatherford went 2-for-4 and first baseman Gabe Snyder went 2-for-5. Mark Meyer struck out three in 2 2/3 innings, gave up one run and was charged with the loss.
Wright State broke through first thanks to a two-out JD Orr RBI single in the second. The Raiders stranded two on the basepaths in the inning, which became a game-long theme.
The Raiders broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth, thanks to a Seth Gray RBI double. Matt Morrow touched home plate to give Wright State a 2-1 advantage, but the Raiders left two men on base.
UIC scored one run in the eighth to take its first lead. The Flames added two insurance runs in the ninth to extend their lead to 5-2.
The Raiders left 13 runners on base, and coach Jeff Mercer blamed the lack of success with runners on as a major reason for the loss.
“We would get two or three guys on but were unable to finish the inning,” Mercer said. “We would string two or three good at-bats in an inning but not getting that last one that we needed to put a couple runs up was hard.”
In his sixth year leading Wright State’s baseball program, Mercer has been to four conference tournament finals and won three of them.
Of those four games, only one took place at Nischwitz Stadium. Mercer said he told his players that teams rarely get a chance to win conference tournaments on their home field, so playing at UIC won’t hinder them much.
Mercer echoed Collins in mentioning the immense growth the team has undergone in the past week.
“If we grow as much in this week as we did last week, then we’ll have an opportunity to go back to the NCAA tournament,” Mercer said.
Wright State will open the tournament Thursday against the highest remaining seed from the first-round games. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We’ll be right there in the championship like we are every year,” Collins said. “We’re gonna come in and get this one.”