Wright State baseball team looks to have plenty of offense again

FAIRBORN — Playing baseball for Wright State means getting ample exposure for the Major League draft because of the team’s penchant for producing future pros.

It also means you spend much of your time being part of a grounds crew.

The Raiders get ready for each season with mostly indoor workouts — the pitchers in McLin Gym and the position players in batting cages at the MVP facility in West Carrollton.

Full team practices depend on the weather. And while winter this year has had a bite to it, the Raiders aren’t easily deterred.

“Last week, we had guys work on the field to get all that ice off, which was a challenge,” fourth-year coach Alex Sogard said with a chuckle. “But we were able to clear the whole infield and do some infield stuff.

“And by Friday, the outfield melted, so we were able to do team defense.”

The College World Series usually is filled with teams from the South and West — probably because they don’t start their seasons wielding shovels and brooms.

But Sogard doesn’t look at weather woes as a disadvantage.

“In a weird way, I always joke with our guys that they’re like a pack of wild dogs, and we just let ‘em loose on game day,” Sogard said.

“Being cooped up inside, when they finally get on a field, there’s that much more excitement and focus.”

The Raiders certainly weren’t held back last season while winning the Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles and setting a program record for conference wins while going 28-4.

They finished 35-13 overall and played in the NCAA tourney for the fourth time in six years (not counting 2020, which was cancelled because of the pandemic).

Led by Tyler Black, who was drafted 33rd overall by the Milwaukee Brewers (the highest pick from Wright State since pitcher Brian Anderson went third overall in 1993), the Raiders were the Bash Brothers of college baseball.

They led the nation in batting average (.339), on-base percentage (.447), slugging percentage (.579), doubles per game (2.71) and runs per game (10.5).

They scored 100 times in a four-game sweep of Purdue Fort Wayne and won three straight in the HL tourney, including a 21-3 victory over Milwaukee in the finals.

“I was talking to our team a couple weeks back when we got our (league championship) rings. I said, ‘In 2019, we had a special team. And I remember thinking, we’ll never have an offense that good. And then two years later, it was incredible what we did,’” Sogard said.

“Last year will be tough to beat, but I do like our group.”

They return four all-league players in Sammy Sass (.363 average, 12 homers, 60 RBIs in 2021), Alec Sayre (.383, 8, 40), Zane Harris (.347, 5, 55) and pitcher Jake Shirk (7-0, 2.01 ERA, 22.1 innings).

Sogard said Sass and Sayre “were the two young guys who fit right in with that talented lineup.” And he called Harris “a pure hitter.”

Shirk is making the move from reliever to starter and will be joined in the rotation by Dayton transfer Aaron Ernst, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery.

“I’m excited to see him,” Sogard said. “He’s got an electric right arm.”

The Raiders begin the season Friday with a three-game series at No. 11 Georgia Tech. They’ll play three at No. 7 Oklahoma State and three at Virginia Tech before their home opener against Dayton on March 8.

Playing non-league games against ranked teams has been a program strategy for years.

Their first two games in 2021 were against what Sogard called Vanderbilt’s “two-headed monster” of Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker.

Leiter was drafted second overall last year and Rocker 10th.

The two pitchers combined for nine scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts against the Raiders.

“Seeing those arms and then getting into the conference, it really benefitted us,” Sogard said. “You started to see some confidence.

“We’re younger this year. But once we get our feet under us — and the guys get out there and get more comfortable — I think this group can do some damage.”

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