The Wright State baseball team is on the cusp of snatching its fourth Horizon League regular-season title in the last six years and seventh overall. The Raiders go into their final three-game series at Oakland on Thursday needing just one win to lock up the crown.
The Raiders are 38-15 overall and have knocked off three teams ranked in the D1Baseball.com Top 25: Oklahoma State, Mississippi and Indiana.
»RELATED: Raiders sweep NKU
But while he’s pleased with keeping the tradition going in his first year — and would relish the chance to host the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed next week — coach Alex Sogard believes the Raiders still have another gear and aren’t quite playing up to their potential yet, a view that might cause some shudders around the league.
“As crazy as it sounds, I still feel like we’re trying find ourselves as a team. We’re still growing a little bit,” Sogard said. “I know we’ve had a lot of success, but our ceiling is so high. We’re still putting pieces together this late in the year. Hopefully, we can put it all together in this final stretch.”
After winning at least 21 games in the league the last five years, the Raiders are 19-8, while Milwaukee and are UIC tied for second at 16-10. They’ve lost at least one game in six of nine conference series, which might explain why the season has felt like more of a grind to Sogard, who joined the program in 2016.
“It’s been different than most years. I think the league as a whole has been a lot more competitive,” he said.
The pitchers also have had to be nurtured by the staff a bit more than usual. Six of the nine players who have notched at least 24 innings this season are freshmen.
The staff ERA is 4.11.
“We’ve struggled on the mound,” Sogard said. “But allowing these young guys to pitch has probably been the best thing that’s happened — not necessarily right now, but next year and the following year. It’s going to help our program a lot.”
But senior Bear Bellomy was named league pitcher of the week for the third time after recording a two-hit shutout of Northern Kentucky on Friday. After making only sporadic appearances his first three seasons, he has all-conference credentials with a 7-3 record and 3.19 ERA.
“He’s improved throughout the entire year. He’s a really hard worker, a good athlete and tries to get better every week, and it’s working out for him,” Sogard said.
Senior Zane Collins (8-3, 5.31) has been named league pitcher of the week twice, both coming in the first three weeks. He pitched six scoreless innings in a 9-1 win over NKU on Sunday.
“He’s back in his groove,” Sogard said. “He had a couple rough weeks, but he’s such a talented pitcher with a really good sinker ball. It was good to get him comfortable again.”
The offense has been comfortable all year. The Raiders are hitting .301, which is 20th nationally, and have tallied 421 runs (8.1 per game), which is tied for seventh in Division I.
They currently have five of the top-10 hitters in the league: Peyton Burdick (.386), Seth Gray (.343), Zach Weatherford (.335), Tyler Black (.327) and J.D. Orr (.325).
Burdick, who was named league batter of the week for the third time Monday, leads the conference in hitting, on-base percentage (.529) and doubles (17) to go with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Gray has 11 homers with a league-high 62 RBIs and five triples, while Orr is first the nation in steals (51) and third in runs (71).
“Our offense has carried us most of the year,” Sogard said. “We returned six or seven starters and we knew we’d be good, but we’ve been even better than I anticipated.”
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