Wright State looking to build on last year’s tourney experience

Wright State’s Caleb Sampen throws to the plate in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Valpo in the Horizon League championship game. The freshman threw a complete game and was named to the all-tournament team. Mike Hartsock/WHIO-TV
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Wright State’s Caleb Sampen throws to the plate in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Valpo in the Horizon League championship game. The freshman threw a complete game and was named to the all-tournament team. Mike Hartsock/WHIO-TV

NEXT GAME

Who: Wright State vs. Ohio State

What: NCAA regional at Louisville

When: 2 p.m. Friday

TV/Radio: ESPN3

The Wright State baseball team broke a nine-game losing streak in the NCAA tournament when it pulled out a pair of wins last season and finished as the regional runner-up. But while that may have qualified as a breakthrough performance, the standards for the Raiders are higher going into postseason play at Louisville this weekend.

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Anything less than a regional title will leave them unfulfilled.

“We got our foot in the door, but this year we want to win it,” outfielder Ryan Fucci said. “We like our draw. Louisville is going to be tough. But we’ve got to win that first one if we want to win it.”

The Raiders (44-15) will face Ohio State (43-18-1) in their opener at 2 p.m. Friday. Host Louisville (47-12), the No. 2 overall seed in the 64-team tourney, will face Western Michigan (22-32) at 6 p.m.

The winner of the double-elimination event will advance to the Super Regionals.

“We’re not satisfied (just making the tourney),” Wright State ace Jesse Scholtens said. “We’re going to enjoy every part of being in a regional, but at the same time, we’re not there to have fun. We’re there to win some games and move on.”

The Raiders have made five previous NCAA tourney trips since becoming a Division I program in 1988. After losing to Notre Dame in their opener last season, they beat Ohio University and knocked off ND to set up a showdown with host Illinois in the finals. Rated fifth nationally, the Illini prevailed, 8-4.

But the Raiders have been on a rampage. They’ve won 38 of their last 47 games, including three straight to win the Horizon League tournament.

The surge roughly coincided with the return of catcher Sean Murphy, who was out with a hand injury. Batting fifth in the lineup, the Centerville grad hit .281 with a .408 on-base percentage. He also went 5-for-5 in steals.

“Offensively, we found ways to grind out wins in the middle of the year. Once we got Sean back, we’ve been averaging two and a half more runs per game,” third-year coach Greg Lovelady said. “I don’t know what it was, whether it was him or just the thought of having him around, but our offense has definitely clicked.”

The Buckeyes, though, also have been on an uptick. They fought off four elimination games on their way to their first Big Ten tourney crown since 2009.

“They’ve been playing really, really good ball the last couple weeks and really made a run. They’re hot,” Lovelady said. “It’s a good challenge for us. But we’re going to play our way and not really worry about who is in the other dugout.”

Lovelady knows his players are percolating with confidence after setting a school record for wins for the second straight season.

“We always tell the guys we want to be peaking at the end of the year,” he said. “I like our guys. I like our chances.”