Wright State baseball: Player of year Hamilton leads explosive offense going into league tourney

FAIRBORN — Wright State baseball coach Alex Sogard had a dilemma over what to do with his team’s Horizon League bye last weekend.

With the conference tourney just days away and having become concerned about his players losing their competitive edge, Sogard said bye-bye to the bye and lined up three home games with Division II power Charleston (W. Va.).

“We wanted a Division I team. We were in contact with a few, but it was tough. Nobody really wanted to play us,” he said.

“We were fortunate to get them. They’re probably as good as a lot of teams in our league. We got to see some realty good arms.”

The visitors may have had some solid pitching, but the Raiders grinded them up just like every other foe of late, sweeping the series by lopsided scores.

Sammy Sass had a three-homer game, and the offense kept humming with a combined 27 runs.

“One through nine in the order, our guys have been doing great. We’ve got some bench guys that are hitting .330 or .340. It’s definitely a deep lineup offensively,” said Sogard, whose team hosts the double-elimination league tourney this week.

The 33-year-old, third-year coach was a Major League draft pick and spent seven seasons pitching in the minors before making the sport his livelihood. But he’s not sure what he’d tell opposing staffs when facing his squad.

“Coming in, they know it’s going to be a challenge. It’s not just a few hitters. You’ve got to get through the whole lineup. And if you get through it one time, it’s back to the top again,” he said.

That was reflected in the league postseason honors announced Tuesday.

Centerville’s Quincy Hamilton became the 10th Raider to be named player of the year.

Tyler Black, Alec Sayer and Sass were first-team picks among position players, while Austin Cline earned a first-team nod as a pitcher.

Hamilton may have sneaked up on the rest of the league, having first become a starter in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

But Sogard said: “He’s not a surprise to any one of us. He’s had the talent. It’s one of those things where he was behind a really good outfield with J.D. Orr, Peyton Burdick and Zach Weatherford for a few years.

“We knew he was one of our best hitters. He was very patient in waiting. Last year was going to be his opportunity, but then Covid hit. This year, I’m glad he’s gotten the opportunity. It’s been fun to watch.”

The center fielder is first in the nation in runs scored with 70. He’s also first in the league and eighth nationally in on-base percentage at .521.

He’s second in the conference in homers with 12 and RBIs with 53 and is seventh in hitting at .358.

Sogard will be counting on Hamilton and the rest of that potent offense to show up when the top-seeded Raiders (32-11, 28-4) open the tourney at Nischwitz Stadium against fourth-seeded Milwaukee (20-31, 17-23) at 11 a.m. Thursday.

No. 2 UIC (29-16, 28-11) meets No. 3 Youngstown State (32-22, 24-16) at 3 p.m. Thursday. The champion will be crowned Saturday and earn an automatic berth in the NCAA tourney.

The field has been pared from six to four teams because of COVID-19, and while the Raiders set league records for conference victories and winning percentage, Sogard warned: “Anything can happen in a tournament. We’ve got to show up ready to play.”

But confidence is high after pummeling the competition all year. They’ve won 18 of their last 19 games going back to mid-April.

“Our first goal was to host the tournament, and we’re doing that, and the second goal is to win it,” he said. “Our guys are out of school. They’re just playing baseball. They’re enjoying it. The weather is beautiful. This is why you play.”

The Raiders have statistically the best offense in Division I. They’ve scored the second most runs with 448 and have by far the top average at 10.4 per game.

They lead the country in on-base percentage at .446 and slugging percentage at .567. And they’re on pace to vaporize several team records.

The previous high mark for OBP was .431 in 1983 and ’89. The best slugging percentage in the books (total bases per at-bat) is .499 in 2008.

They’re batting .336 as a team. The record is .338 in 2010.

They have 66 homers in 43 games, just behind the 2019 record of 67 amassed in 59 games.

“Our guys compete in the (batter’s) box,” Sogard said. “With hitting, there’s a little bit that rubs off on each other. Guys have been a lot more confident the last few weeks.”

Black is third in the league in OBP (.502) and runs (56), fourth in homers (nine) and sixth in hitting (.379) and RBIs (47).

Sayre leads the league in batting at .414. Sass is first in RBIs with 55.

The starting pitchers have done their part, too.

Cline (7-1, 3.00 ERA) has 82 strikeouts in 63 innings, Jake Schrand (5-4, 4.18 ERA) 84 in 60.1 innings, and Bradley Brehmer (7-3, 3.76) 80 in 64.2. All three will be needed in the tourney.

“Our pitchers have done a really good job,” Sogard said. “They each had a bad outing that made their ERA a little higher than it really should be. They’ve been great for us all year.”

If it seems as if the Raiders are competing for conference titles in nearly every sport, it’s because, well, they actually are.

Men’s basketball won its third straight regular-season title this year. Men’s golf and soccer won crowns last season.

The women’s basketball and volleyball teams not only were regular-season champs, but they also won their league tourneys and earned NCAA bids in March.

And the baseball team seems capable of a deep postseason run.

“We’re in a good spot right now when we probably shouldn’t be,” athletic director Bob Grant said. “There’s a lot of things against us.

“We’re not out-spending people, we’re not out-manning people. But our student-athletes are overachieving. It’s been a joy to watch.”

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