FAIRBORN — The Wright State baseball team won last season’s Horizon League tournament championship for the third time in six seasons to advance to the NCAA tournament.
The Raiders now return the league’s player of the year (Miamisburg High School product Jake Hibberd), relief pitcher of the year (Michael Schum), newcomer of the year (Corey Davis) and coach of the year (Rob Cooper).
Seven of the eight regular-position players are back. All six WSU players who were on the All-Horizon League first team remain on the roster.
No wonder the Raiders were picked to win the HL title in a unanimous vote (coaches can’t vote for their own schools).
The task now for Cooper, entering his eighth season, is to keep WSU hungry.
“A big part of this season is that the past is the past,” Cooper said. “This team, this year, has not done anything, so that’s a message I’ve been trying to send to our guys.”
The Raiders will open the season today in a five-team event at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C., with Monmouth, Bryant, North Carolina State and Canisius. They will also face a three-game series at North Carolina and an event hosted by Virginia before playing their first game in Fairborn against Southeast Missouri State on March 9.
By then, Cooper hopes his current team has found its rhythm.
That starts with Hibberd, who led the HL last season in average, home runs, RBIs, doubles, total bases, slugging percentage, hits and on-base percentage.
He was also the WSU athletic department-wide male athlete of the year and an American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings All-Midwest team selection.
“Obviously Jake has had a great three years, and he’s a very, very good player,” Cooper said. “He’s a good example of last year being over. We don’t necessarily need him to be the same player this year, and I know he’s ready to do whatever it takes for us to win.”
Schum, from Bright, Ind., finished last season with a 9-2 record and 1.37 ERA, and he returns to a bullpen that also features senior Jordan Marker, giving WSU an experienced game-ending duo.
One of the Raiders’ biggest question marks is its starting pitchers, as they lost all three weekend starters to graduation.
Sophomore Joey Hoelzel will get the first start on Friday after starting five times in 14 appearances last season, and sophomore Taylor Braun and junior Cody Kopilchack will also see time in the weekend rotation.
Aside from any of last season’s awards or preseason picks, WSU also boasts a group of seniors that has been part of two Horizon titles and NCAA tournament appearances in the past three seasons, which have made Cooper a prospect for open jobs in the past several offseasons.
“I think we’re confident based on what we’ve done in the past and the experience we have coming back to our team,” Cooper said. “We’ve had some success and guys who have been part of that success, so we’re excited to get going.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-7389 or knagel@DaytonDailyNews.com.