Wright State baseball team looks strong again after reloading

Butler High School grad Damon Dues (pictured during a game last season) is one of only three experienced regulars back this season for Wright State’s baseball team. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics

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Butler High School grad Damon Dues (pictured during a game last season) is one of only three experienced regulars back this season for Wright State’s baseball team. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics

The Wright State baseball team agreed to go on the road this year to face three non-league opponents that made the College World Series last season and are ranked in the top-10 in the nation, prompting second-year coach Alex Sogard to quip, “I don’t know who’s in charge of the schedule, but he needs to get fired.”

Actually, Sogard set up the majority of the non-conference games, and he purposely sought out the toughest foes he could find. That’s just the Raider way.

»RELATED: Raiders wallop nationally-ranked Louisville

“Our guys — the last five years or so since I’ve been in the program — tend to thrive in those environments. As crazy as it may sound, we go into those places expecting to win. We know if we play how we’re capable of playing, we can compete with anyone,” Sogard said.

After notching wins over three Top-25 teams in Mississippi, Oklahoma State and East Carolina last season, the Raiders slayed another national power Wednesday with a 10-3 victory at Louisville. They banged out 16 hits, including four by Quincy Hamilton and three each by Damon Dues and Cameron Rountree, and didn't commit an error.

The Cardinals are ranked No. 1 in the Perfect Game Top 25, third in the NCAA’s D1Baseball.com poll and sixth by Baseball America. They also were the ACC preseason favorites.

The Raiders, who still have trips to Auburn and Tennessee, have two wins previously over teams ranked No. 1 in at least one poll, beating Georgia in 2009 and Virginia in 2010.

They were swept in a season-opening series at No. 10 Mississippi State last weekend, but all three games were competitive, and Sogard knew his squad wouldn’t be intimidated.

“We like a challenge. That’s how you get better at anything. You want to play the best,” he said.

The Raiders finished 42-17 last season while winning their sixth Horizon League regular-season title since 2010. But they were picked second in the conference preseason poll last week behind league tourney champ UIC.

They had four players picked in the Major League draft off the 2019 team: Peyton Burdick (third round), Seth Gray (fourth), J.D. Orr (10th) and Bear Bellomy (28th). And another, Zach Weatherford, also is playing in the minors after signing as a free agent.

The only experienced regulars are Tyler Black, who hit .353 and was named first-team all-league last year; Dues, who batted .303; and Zane Harris, who hit .284.

The pitching staff is battle-tested, though. Sam Wirsing (7-0, 3.91 ERA) and Bradley Brehmer (7-0, 4.50) are back, and Daniel Kreuzer, who missed most of last season with an injury, and Dayton transfer Austin Cline have top-of-the-rotation talent.

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Alex Sogard. WSU PHOTO

Alex Sogard. WSU PHOTO

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Alex Sogard. WSU PHOTO

They should get plenty of run support, too. Rountree, a Springboro product, is hitting .571 so far, Hamilton (Centerville) .467 and Dues (Vandalia) .429.

The Raiders, whose home opener is March 10 against Miami, also will pressure opponents on the basepaths again. They finished second nationally in stolen bases last year with 169 in 204 attempts.

“We have a number of guys who have been in the program a few years and have been behind Burdick and Orr and others who were some of the best to ever do it in a Wright State uniform,”Sogard said. “A lot of our guys are hungry and ready to get their opportunity.

“It’s exciting because they’ve put in the work and you know how talented they are, but the league and country don’t know it yet.”

After the win over Louisville, though, they probably have a good idea what to expect.

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