Dayton seeks first A-10 baseball championship since 2012

Flyers open tournament against Rhode Island on Wednesday

Connor Echols didn’t have to think long and hard when he got the opportunity to play baseball for the Dayton Flyers.

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“I was a Dayton fan growing up,” said Echols, a Sidney High School graduate who starts in left field for UD as a senior. “It was close to home. Everybody loves Dayton basketball. I never really visited the campus, but I had a lot of buddies who came here. When they offered me, it was really a no-brainer.”

Family is important, Echols said, and his family travels far and wide to see him play. He said his dad has missed maybe two games this year, and he expects the same support this week when Dayton plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament at Fordham University in Bronx, N.Y.

“I know they’re coming this week, and they’ll be with us the rest of the ride,” Echols said. “That’s how Dayton fans are. They travel well. They love to support their team.”

The Flyers (29-24) hope the ride is a long one. They are the No. 3 seed in the double-elimination tournament and play No. 6 seed Rhode Island (23-27) at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The winner plays No. 2 seed Davidson (26-19) or No. 7 Saint Louis (25-27) at 10 a.m. Thursday. The loser will play its second game at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday or 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Five different teams have won the A-10 tournament in the last five years: Saint Louis in 2018 and Davidson, Rhode Island, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason in previous seasons.

The Flyers didn’t play Rhode Island in the regular season and didn’t face either of the top seeds, Davidson or No. 1 VCU (39-17), so it’s hard to predict how they might do this week.

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“Baseball’s one of those sports,” Dayton coach Jayson King said. “It’s not necessarily the best team that wins. It’s the team that plays the best. In baseball, anything can happen. Because of that, it just depends on who’s the hottest and who catches fire at the right time. We’re hoping to be that team and play for a while here.”

Hunter Wolfe (9-4, 3.83 ERA), a junior from Clay City, Ind., will start Wednesday on the mound for the Flyers.

“Hunter Wolfe’s been our Friday guy, our No. 1 guy,” King said. “He sets the tone for the team and what we do, starting weekends, and in this case starting the tournament. We feel great when he’s on the mound and love the way he competes and goes about his business out there.

Wolfe said he wants “to set the tone for the team and give everybody the confidence we are here for a reason. We are ready to win. That’s something I’d love to be able to do.”

Echols leads the offense with 41 RBIs. He’s hitting .277 with five home runs. Junior first baseman Eddie Pursinger and junior designated hitter Alex Brickman share the team lead with six home runs.

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Sophomore third baseman Riley Tirotta and sophomore right fielder Michael Cleary each have 17 stolen bases. Dayton ranks second in the A-10 with 107 stolen bases.

Dayton seeks its second A-10 title and first since 2012. It went 0-2 in 2014, the last time it qualified for the tournament. The Flyers have missed the tournament from 2015-18, finishing 12th, 11th, 10th and nine. They jumped to third this season.

“The leadership on this team this year has been incredible,” King said. “The biggest thing as a coach is to get everyone functioning together and pulling in the same direction, and I think this team has done a good job of that.”

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