- By Damin Esper Contributing Writer
Sometimes, it’s just baseball. The Wright State Raiders fought their way through two tough games at the Stanford Regional of the NCAA baseball tournament. After Friday night’s gut-punch loss in 13 innings to Stanford, Wright State came back on Saturday afternoon to battle Baylor in an elimination game.
For seven innings, the teams fought to a draw. Then came the eighth. The Bears batted around, scoring four runs on seven hits to take an 11-5 win and send the Raiders packing.
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It was a tough result considering how Caleb Sampen pitched with his team facing elimination. Sampen allowed four runs (three earned) and six hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked three. He fell behind 4-1 due in part to some defensive breakdowns behind him. But he seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
“I just wanted to keep my team in the game,” Sampen said. “It’s happened to me this entire year that they’ll pick me up eventually.”
However, at 116 pitches, he was done after the seventh and Derek Hendrixson came on for the fateful eighth.
Baylor got seven hits in the inning but three of them were of the infield variety. One of those was especially painful and may have keyed the inning.
Shea Longeliers led off with a double against Hendrixson. Davion Downey then came up and showed bunt.
With shortstop Chase Slone breaking to third and second baseman Matt Morrow breaking for first, Downey pulled the bat back and chopped the ball up the middle. Hendrixson leapt and got his glove on the ball but it went through, bouncing behind the mound. There was nobody home and Hendrixson had to scramble after the ball himself. He retrieved it and tried in vain to get Longeliers going home. He sailed his throw, sending Downey to second.
“We were very fortunate that the pitcher wasn’t a little bit taller,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said.
Downey eventually scored but then there was nobody on with two outs. At 6-4, the game was still within reach.
After Levi Gilcrease singled, Nick Loftin hit ground ball to the hole at shortstop for a single. Richard Cunningham then hit a grounder to second. Morrow flipped to Slone trying for the force but was too late. Davis Wendzel followed with a two-run single.
Three more runs (two unearned) in the top of the ninth sealed the Raiders fate.
Raiders coach Jeff Mercer never gave up on his team.
“We thought we would win the game from the first pitch to the very last pitch,” Mercer said.
Gabe Snyder had two doubles, scoring two runs and knocking in another to pace the Wright State offense.
“That’s why he’s very likely the greatest position player to ever play in our program,” Mercer said of how Snyder came back from the miscue. “He’s a prolific player because he’s a prolific person.”
No. 9 hitter Brandon Giltrow went 2 for 3 with a run despite coming into the game hitting .167. J.D. Orr went 2 for 3 with two walks, one run scored and an RBI.
The Raiders (39-17) concluded a great season with two difficult losses. It was the ninth time Wright State made the NCAA tournament since it moved to Division I .
“We had a phenomenal year,” Snyder said. “We started off a little slower than we wanted to but we lived and died together.”
Said Sampen, “We have such a tight-knit group. Every day coming to practice is fun. It makes it easier to play all year long because it’s a long season.”