Wright State confident headed into NCAA Regional

Wright State starter Austin Cline had a strong performance for the Raiders in Saturday's Horizon League championship game against Milwaukee. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Wright State starter Austin Cline had a strong performance for the Raiders in Saturday's Horizon League championship game against Milwaukee. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Raiders open double-elimination event against host Tennessee

Alex Sogard expects a rowdy crowd to greet his Wright State baseball team Friday night at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium. He hears they’re bringing in extra grandstands to add to the 4,283 permanent seats. No problem.

“It will be a hostile place, which I think is what you want in the regionals,” Sogard said. “You want it to be a lot of energy, with the crowd into it from the first pitch to the last.”

The Raiders earned their ninth NCAA Division I regional bid by winning the Horizon League tournament Saturday. On Monday, they reacted with cheers to the news that they were headed to Knoxville to play the third-seeded Volunteers (45-16) at one of 16 regional sites at 6 p.m. Friday on ESPN+. Liberty (39-14) plays Duke (32-20) at noon Friday to start the double-elimination event.

ExploreRaiders win Horizon League title

Wright State (35-11) makes a habit of playing at SEC schools. This year they traveled to Vanderbilt and Alabama and lost all five games. But last year – before COVID-19 shut down the season – the Raiders went to Knoxville and won two of three games against the Volunteers.

“Before they called our name, I think our guys were eager to go there,” Sogard said. “They were hoping just because we’ve been there, we’ve done it. We’ve proved in the last few years we can compete against anybody in the country. I think a lot of that is just our guys’ confidence.”

Tennessee is one of four SEC teams to be seeded in the top eight and one six of chosen as regional hosts. Wright State is the only Horizon League team in the field. But because baseball is more matchup-oriented than other sports, the Raiders don’t feel like they are playing a Goliath.

“You can lose to anybody and you can beat anybody,” said junior outfielder Quincy Hamilton, a Centerville High School grad who on Thursday was named an All-American by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper. “It’s not like we’re playing the New York Yankees, but even then you’re playing against the ball. Or we could be playing the Bad News Bears and they could come out and win.”

The Raiders have never won a regional to advance to the two-team super regional round. After that, of course, is the eight-team College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. This year’s team leads the nation in scoring at 10.6 a game and in team batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

“Our expectation is that we aren’t just going there for the experience,” Hamilton said. “We’re going there to do something that’s never been done in our program.”

The Raiders have three starters ready to go in senior Austin Cline, junior Jake Schrand and sophomore Bradley Bremer. Sogard said Tuesday he had not decided who would start Friday. He and his staff were still reviewing scouting reports and looking for the best matchup.

“Realistically they’re all No. 1 starters, so we could go any direction with them,” Sogard said.

Sogard is in his third season as head coach and fifth season with the program. Winning a regional would be a big step toward earning more respect for the program in Ohio, regionally and nationally.

“Not to be cocky, but more confident, I do think we’re the best baseball team In Ohio,” he said. “And I think when you look at the numbers we could back that up the last four or five years.

“This team, just the depth, it may be the best team we’ve had here since I’ve been an assistant or head coach. I wish we could have played 56 games because I do think we would’ve won 40-45 games.”

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