The Wright State Raiders have such a proven group of position players that they’d probably fare just fine no matter where the Horizon League baseball tournament was being staged.
But given how young the pitching staff is — six of the nine players to surpass 25 innings this year are freshmen — first-year coach Alex Sogard is glad to be hosting the event as the No. 1 seed. Nothing soothes nerves better than playing in familiar surroundings with a supportive crowd.
“We have a veteran group that knows how to prepare. They know what it takes to win a tournament. They know it doesn’t come easy. If we don’t play our best baseball, we don’t get a chance to go to the (NCAA) regionals,” Sogard said.
“They’re able to help our younger guys because they’ve been through it multiple times. It’s just a good mix of guys.”
The tourney opens with fourth-seeded Northern Kentucky facing fifth-seeded Oakland at noon Wednesday. No. 3 Milwaukee plays No. 6 Youngstown State at 4 p.m.
The losing teams are eliminated, and the winners advance. Wright State plays at 11 a.m. Thursday against the lower-seeded team left, while UIC plays the higher seed at 3 p.m.
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The Raiders, who are shooting for their fourth title in five years, are 41-15 overall and 22-3 at Nischwitz Stadium.
“We’ve played really well at home. We’ve always had a strong record at our stadium,” Sogard said. “A lot of it is a comfort thing. I think teams don’t love to play us at our place.
“That’s been our goal from day one — try to win the regular season and get an opportunity to host the tournament. It’s a huge advantage to get to play that thing at our place.”
The Raiders dominated the all-league team, which was announced Tuesday, with Peyton Burdick being named player of the year, Tyler Black freshman of the year and Sogard coach of the year.
Burdick leads the conference in hitting (.395) and on-base percentage (.537) and is tied for second in homers (13) and RBIs (63). A first-team all-league pick in 2018, the junior right fielder finished the regular-season at a torrid pace, going 26-of-47 in his last 14 games.
“He’s been awesome for us,” Sogard said. “He went through a rough patch. He was slumping and started to press a little bit. But then he took a simple approach and took it one at-bat at a time and got going again. When he’s on, he’s a tough out.”
Black, a native of Toronto, Canada, beat out some veterans to become the starting second baseman and has hit .348 with seven homers.
“We knew he was talented. We just weren’t sure he’d be ready right away,” Sogard said. “But when I saw him in the fall, the very first time just doing some infield drills, I was like, ‘This guy is a stud.’ He looked the part. You could just tell right away he knew what he was doing.”
Joining Burdick and Black on the all-league first team were junior third-baseman Seth Gray, who is first in the conference in RBIs (65), fourth in homers (11) and sixth in average (.345); senior center fielder Zach Weatherford, who hit .343 with eight homers and 63 RBIs; senior left fielder J.D. Orr, who batted .330 and is first nationally with 56 stolen bases; and senior pitcher Bear Bellomy, who is 8-3 with a 3.61 ERA.
Senior short stop Chase Slone (.258, 6 homers, 42 RBIs) and freshmen pitcher Bradley Brehmer (7-0, 4.24 ERA) were second-team picks.
Sogard led the Raiders to the 40-win plateau for the first time in three seasons but was reluctant to take much credit.
“I don’t know how much I’ve done. We always say the players win games. Our players have been awesome,” he said.