Wright State baseball team bounces back from rough start

Wright State's Tyler Black (6) celebrates a home run with teammates Quincy Hamilton (10) and Zane Harris during a game against Youngstown State. Wright State Athletics photo
Wright State's Tyler Black (6) celebrates a home run with teammates Quincy Hamilton (10) and Zane Harris during a game against Youngstown State. Wright State Athletics photo

FAIRBORN — Wright State baseball coach Alex Sogard can’t see any downside in filling his non-league schedule with as many upper-echelon programs as he can.

The players always relish the chance to pull off an upset — like last season when they beat No. 1 Louisville. Recruits certainly take note of the ambitious schedule. And while it’s sometimes a painful lesson, any weaknesses the Raiders have typically get exposed.

That’s what happened during a southern swing against defending national champion Vanderbilt and No. 23 Alabama in February. The Raiders went 0-5, matching their longest losing streak in eight years.

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“As much as we like to challenge ourselves early in the year, we expect to win every game we play. It was a tough test, no doubt, but we learned very quickly what he needed to improve on,” he said. “Playing some of the best teams, that’s how you get better.”

Sogard felt the Raiders needed to address some soft spots on defense and cut down on strikeouts, and they’ve been shoring up those areas since then.

They’ve swept a pair of four-game series to open Horizon League play, winning seven of the eight games by at least five runs.

Tyler Black had four homers and eight RBIs against Youngstown State last weekend and is the conference batter of the week.

“Any time you lose five in a row — we don’t do that very often — you try to remind them it’s all about how you respond, and they responded well,” Sogard said.

Black, a junior thirdbaseman from Canada, leads the league in hitting (.422), slugging percentage (.800), on-base percentage (.534) and RBIs (16) and is tied for second with teammate Quincy Hamilton in homers with four.

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PerfectGame.org, which calls itself the world’s largest baseball scouting service, named him its preseason conference player of the year.

“Last year, he struggled offensively because his shoulder was bothering him. He ended up getting shoulder surgery right after the season, and I think he’s comfortable again,” Sogard said. “You’re starting to see how talented he really is. He’s a special player.”

Hamilton, a junior center fielder from Centerville, is first in the conference in runs scored (16) and walks (15) and is second in RBIs (13).

“He’s a really good runner, tracks down balls in the outfield,” Sogard said. “He’s our No. 2 hitter, and he’s a patient guy, walks a ton. He’s got some juice, too, from the left side. He’s a huge part of our offense and defense.”

The Raiders’ pitching staff is putting up Nolan Ryan-like strikeout numbers.

Austin Cline, a transfer from Dayton, is tied for first in the league with teammate Jake Schrand in whiffs with 34. Cline has done it in 21.1 innings, Schrand in 22.2.

Bradley Brehmer is sixth in K’s with 25 in 20.1 innings.

Cline, who is the HL pitcher of the week, is first in the league in ERA at 1.69, Brehmer fifth at 2.21 and Schrand eighth at 3.18.

“Jake is our Friday pitcher (No. 1 starter). He was our closer last year. He’s a power righty. He throws in the mid-90s (mph), sometimes even 97 or 98. He’s got a power breaking ball and split-finger as well. He can overpower some hitters,” Sogard said.

“Bradley is our No. 2 guy. We’ve worked on a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He’s always been a contact guy, and if you look at his strikeout numbers, they were extremely low (51 in 91.2 innings going into the season). Improving that was our goal this year.

“Austin is a very talented pitcher, very mature kid. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a four-pitch mix. He keeps hitters guessing.”

The Raiders (8-5, 8-0) are so loaded that the player with the league’s third-best average has trouble cracking the lineup. Freshman Sammy Sass is hitting .364 but has gotten only 22 at-bats.

“We probably have 12 guys who could be every day players,” Sogard said. “Covid has created a bit of a roster crunch.”

The Raiders have a pivotal series this weekend at UIC, the defending league tourney champs, but they’ve already built a big lead in the standings.

Their eight conference wins are five more than the next-best total.

“(The players) knew it was going to be a test early, and they knew it would help us,” Sogard said. “It’s good to see them get back on track and their confidence on offense coming around.”

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