Wright State baseball building case for being Ohio’s best program

FAIRBORN — Wright State baseball coach Alex Sogard put ample thought into picking his starting pitcher against Ohio State last week, and he may have been a bit concerned about how his bats would hold up against Big Ten arms.

But he knew he wouldn’t have to dig deep for a motivational speech on the trip to Columbus. The Raiders believe they have the best college baseball program in the state, and there’s no better way to prove that than to beat the Buckeyes.

“Baseball is a funny game where anyone can win on any given day, but that’s something we talk about. Our guys take a lot of pride in it when we play teams from Ohio. It’s not just another game to us,” Sogard said.

The Raiders pulled out a 3-0 victory behind lefty Alex Theis, a former Ohio State pitcher who gave up just two hits in six innings.

Relievers Tristan Haught and Jay Luikart locked down the win with three stress-free innings. And Parker Harrison led the offense with the first homer of his career.

The Buckeyes own a 3-2 edge in head-to-head meetings in the last seven full seasons, including a two-game split in the 2016 NCAA regionals at Louisville.

But the Raiders have more NCAA trips (five) in that span than OSU (three).

They’re 4-0 against Ohio schools so far this season, including a two-game sweep of Miami and a win over Toledo.

Since 2015, they’ve racked up an impressive 53-17 record against Division I teams from the Buckeye state going into Wednesday’s home game with Xavier.

Asked if the staff weaves that in-state dominance into talks with recruits, Sogard said: “Definitely. Our Ohio opponents probably feel the same way we do. But if you look at the numbers in the postseason, we feel we can compete with anybody.

“That (claim) isn’t something we take lightly. We talk about it a lot. We’re not necessarily the ‘name’ school. We don’t have football. We fly under the radar. But we feel like we’re known as a baseball school, and we try to re-establish that every year.”

The Raiders, named the Horizon League preseason favorites, have won their last seven games to improve to 13-10. They swept a three-game series against Oakland, which was picked second, last weekend to jump to 5-1 in the conference.

The pitching has been solid with Sebastian Gongora, a redshirt sophomore from Chaminade Julienne, posting a 3-1 record and a league-best 2.12 ERA.

Andrew Patrick has the HL’s third-best average at .363. And the 6-foot-3 sophomore center fielder has been bumped to the lead-off spot since Justin Riemer, perhaps the team’s best player, suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago.

“He’s the best athlete on the team, really fast,” Sogard said of Patrick.

“He started every game as a freshman last year and struggled early, which surprised us just because of how talented he is. He was arguably the best high school player in the state. But he hit .400 the last month of the season, so he started to figure it out.”

Luikart is the Shohei Ohtani of the league. He’s not only the team’s closer, but he also leads the Raiders with 30 hits, is second with a .333 average and tied for second in homers with four.

“We try to monitor that,” Sogard said of Luikart’s dual role. “Doing both is a heavy workload. He’s a guy who’ll only pitch one inning, most likely once a weekend in a save situation, just because his bat is so valuable.”

The Raiders started 2-8 against their typically demanding early schedule. But they’re clearly rounding into form.

“We didn’t play as well as we could,” Sogard said of games against Hawaii, Kentucky and Arkansas. “It’s been good to see (the turnaround) — especially on the mound.

“Our pitchers are getting a little rhythm, both the starters and our bullpen. And guys have been playing with a little more confidence offensively as well.”

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