Wright State baseball: Raiders hitting their stride, have HL title in sight

Wright State left-hander Sebastian Gongora, a Chaminade-Julienne grad, earned Horizon League pitcher of the week honors for a recent shutout victory over Youngstown State. Jessica Roberts/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State left-hander Sebastian Gongora, a Chaminade-Julienne grad, earned Horizon League pitcher of the week honors for a recent shutout victory over Youngstown State. Jessica Roberts/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Wright State baseball coach Alex Sogard was confident his team would bounce back after starting 1-8 against three nationally ranked foes. That’s the way it’s always worked.

But a callow starting lineup and injuries to the pitching staff turned a rough patch into an extended slump, and the Raiders didn’t reach .500 until earlier this month, needing 10 weeks and 38 games to rid themselves of a losing record.

“We’ve lost more than we have in the past few years. The guys who have been in our program have never really lost much, and there’s times you start to question, ‘Hey, are we as good as we could be?’” Sogard said.

“There’s been more ups and downs than in previous years. But we have so much talent, and it’s all about how you play at the end. We’re putting ourselves in a good position.”

The Raiders, who have racked up three straight Horizon League regular-season titles, have won eight of their last 11 games to improve to 23-22 overall.

But while they may be on pace for their fewest wins since 2013, they’re in first place at 16-6 in the league with seven games to go.

“We’re finally starting to play to our caliber,” Sogard said.

The Raiders are hitting a pedestrian .269 as a team, third in the league, but they’re first in runs at 7.3 per game, homers with 57 and on-base percentage at .383.

And while they can’t match the thunder of last year’s squad, which batted .339 and led the nation in scoring with 10.5 runs per game, Sogard has no qualms with the offense.

“The thing about our league is, typically, there’s a little more separation. But this year, everyone has a couple really good arms,” Sogard said.

“Offensively, I like what we’ve been doing. I like our lineup one through nine. It’s tough to top what we did last year — it was a special group — but they’ve done a good job.”

Leadoff hitter Julian Greenwell and No. 3 batter Alec Sayre have provided consistent production. One was a known commodity going into the season, one wasn’t.

Sayre is third in the league in batting average (.343) and on-base percentage at (.438). He was a first-team all-league pick last season, hitting .383 with a .479 OBP.

“He’s just a pure hitter,” Sogard said. “He’s kind of low emotion, doesn’t ride the wave of baseball, which I think is going to allow him to play for a long time. He’s the same guy every day. He’s been huge for us in the middle of the lineup.”

Greenwell only had 39 at-bats last season, but he leads the league in OBP (.465) and triples (four), is second in slugging percentage (.591) and eighth in average (.328).

“We plugged him in the leadoff spot a month into the season, and he just hit the ground running. He gets on base as well as anybody,” Sogard said.

“He’s got an aggressive mindset. He’s a little like Peyton Burdick (the 2019 HL player of the year). He’d run through a wall for you. He just gives us good energy at the top of the lineup.”

The Raiders are only fifth among seven HL teams in ERA at 6.72, but the staff has shown some life lately.

Sebastian Gongora, a redshirt freshman from Chaminade Julienne, earned the HL pitcher of the week award May 3 for a shutout against Youngstown State, and Jake Shirk was honored April 26 for a shutout against Northern Kentucky.

Though they took a step back in a 21-9 setback at Michigan on Wednesday, Sogard said, “Our pitching has gotten a lot better.”

The Raiders have finished first or second in the league in 10 of the last 11 seasons. A fourth-place showing in 2013 is the lone outlier.

They have a 2.5-game lead on UIC (12-7) and Oakland (14-9). The first-place team will host the league tourney May 25-28.

They finish the season with home double-headers against Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday and Milwaukee on Sunday and then a three-game series at Milwaukee next week.

Those two teams are a combined 31-57.

“The first goal is to host the tournament. It’s such an advantage, and we’ve always played so good at home,” Sogard said.

“That’s our main focus right now: finishing strong.”

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