- By Jay Morrison Staff Writer
For the second time in three games, Wright State team will play at the home of a professional baseball team when the Raiders face Northern Kentucky at Fifth Third Field at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
The landmark game marks the first time WSU will play at the home of the Dayton Dragons, and it comes a few days after the Raiders beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Miller Field. The 4-3 victory in 10 innings at the home of the Milwaukee Brewers coupled with Sunday rainouts enabled Wright State to clinch the Horizon League regular season title for the third time in five years.
Admission is free Thursday night, but fans still must have a ticket to enter Fifth Third Field. Tickets are available at the box office, and gates open at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys,” WSU coach Jeff Mercer said. “We recruit guys to get a degree, to win championships and to play professional baseball. I don’t hide from the fact that I want guys to play professionally, and I think if that’s not the ultimate goal, then what are we doing this for?
“Showing those guys these environments is a critical part of this whole development process,” he added.
It should be one of the biggest crowds the Raiders have played in front of this season. Their series at Louisiana in February averaged 4,900 for the three games. The next largest crowd was 2,236 at Louisville last week.
Even though the Raiders, who have won 9 of 11 to improve to 33-15 overall and 19-6 in the HL, have clinched the regular-season title, Mercer said the team won’t be easing up for the final series of the regular season.
“We’re going to run our starters out there and play it out like we’ve got everything to play for and stay sharp,” he said. “We’re going to play to win those games. The big change will be on the mound, trying to get some more guys in.”
The final two games of the NKU series will be played at Nischwitz Stadium, where WSU will be the host for the HL tournament May 23-26.
The pairings for the tournament won’t be announced until the regular season is complete, but with the Raiders locked is as the No. 1 seed, they know they will play their first game at 11 a.m. May 23 against the winner of the first-round game between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds.
“It really helps us being at home,” Mercer said. “I know it sounds cliche, but we’re built to play in this park. We can really run because this place plays so big and we’re a top five or 10 defense in the country.”
Wright State will be looking for its third tournament championship and NCAA berth in four years. The last HL team to win three tournaments in four years was Illinois-Chicago (2005, 2007, 2008).
Playing the tournament at home has been beneficial for the Raiders, who have captured titles the last three times the event was played at Nischwitz (2016, 2011, 2006).
If the Raiders are able to win the tournament, Mercer will join his predecessors Greg Lovelady and Rob Cooper in leading WSU to the NCAA tournament in their second seasons as head coach.