At stake: Winner advances to play victor of second game between No. 1 Louisville and No. 4 Western Michigan, while the losers will square off in an elimination game
It’s not as though Wright State coach Greg Lovelady and shortstop Mitch Roman needed a reminder of how their most recent trip the NCAA tournament ended, with both of them watching from the parking lot after getting ejected in the sixth inning of an 8-4 loss at Illinois in last year’s regional final.
But they got one anyway Thursday afternoon.
Following the team’s practice at the University of Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium, where the third-seeded Raiders (44-15) and No. 2 Ohio State (43-18-1) will play their regional opener at 2 p.m. today, Lovelady and Roman were greeted by NCAA site manager Eric Harmon, the same man who was in charge last year at Illinois and escorted each of them off the field.
“He had a lot of fun with it, telling Mitch the parking lot here isn’t big enough for him this year,” Lovelady said.
Sharing a laugh with Harmon only intensified Roman’s thirst for redemption, which is something that’s been driving him since Lovelady asked each player to pick one word as their inspiration for the season.
“My one word was ‘Champaign,’ ” Roman said, referring to the site of the ejection. “It’s something that motivates me every day.”
Roman leads WSU in batting average (.339), runs (53), hits (79) and triples (five), and he shares the team lead in stolen bases (25) with senior outfielder Ryan Fucci.
But it’s been intangibles such as attitude and maturity where Lovelady has seen the greatest growth.
“Mitch has probably made the biggest transformation for us this year,” he said. “Whether it was immaturity from being his first season in Division I or whatever, he used to get frustrated so easily at umpires or the other team or whatever and he would just talk too much.”
That’s what got him run in last year’s regional final. Roman was yelling at an Illinois player while heading out to his position following a series of incidents that began with the Illini’s David Kerian barreling into WSU catcher Sean Murphy, followed by Lovelady’s ejection.
“He was really apologetic after that,” Lovelady said. “He felt like he let the team down and misrepresented the university. He doesn’t want to be that same guy and wants to use that as a learning experience. And he’s been 100 percent a different person this year.”
Roman’s outburst may not have been a surprise, but Lovelady’s certainly was.
The usually mild-mannered coach was enraged by the no-call after Kerian blasted Murphy, who is projected as a top-50 pick in next week’s MLB amateur draft.
“I’m not big on arguing with umpires,” Lovelady said. “I don’t see a need for it. Except when it’s about my players. Sean could have had a Buster Posey-type injury (broken leg). The guy’s going to be a first-rounder, and that could have changed the course of his career.
“It’s my job to protect these guys because they don’t have a voice,” he continued. “If assistant coaches or players say anything, they’ll eject them and it’s an automatic suspension. So when I feel like the kids are compromised, I’m going to go out there and protect them. I do it respectfully, but last year was just a different situation that wasn’t reciprocated.”
Kerian’s run broke a 4-4 tie, and the Illini tacked on three runs in the ninth to bring a disappointing end to the deepest Division I tournament run in Wright State history.
“Last year was not what we were looking forward to or what I was looking for,” Roman said. “We’re looking for a different outcome this year.”