The Wright State baseball team may not be the top seed for this week’s Horizon League tournament, but the Raiders certainly feel as though they’re the team to beat.
Not only has WSU won the last two championships, the Raiders have reached the championship game in seven of the last eight seasons.
“We’re the only team here that’s ever had an experience winning a conference tournament, as far as the kids,” WSU Jeff Mercer said, noting that 2014 champ Youngstown State is not in the field this year and while Valparaiso has just two players remaining from its 2013 title team.
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“Now a lot of our guys didn’t play much in the games last year, but we’re the program that has the experience winning a championship, and there’s a lot to say for that,” Mercer said. “There’s a lot to say for knowing what it’s like playing in a championship environment, knowing what it’s like to seal the deal and finish a game late under pressure with high anxiety. So there is a confidence level that comes with guys like Matt Morrow and Gabe Snyder and Jeremy Randolph, guys who have won a couple of them.”
Wright State, which finished one game shy of Illinois-Chicago for the regular-season title and right to host the tournament, begins play in the double-elimination tournament at 4 p.m. Thursday against No. 3 seed Valparaiso, which beat No. 6 Wisconsin-Milwaukee 11-5 Wednesday.
If the Raiders can win the title, they will become the first team to claim three consecutive championships since Notre Dame won four in a row from 1991-94 when the HL was known at the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
One of the biggest reasons the Raiders are pursuing that distinction on the road rather than at home, where they won last year’s title, is the trip they made to Chicago two weeks ago when they dropped a pair of games to the top-seeded Flames to fall two back with three to go.
While the outcome wasn’t ideal, Mercer said his team brought home more than disappointment from that trip.
“We were still trying to find ourselves then because our identity at that point didn’t match the foundation of our program in a lot of ways,” he said. “But going up to UIC two weeks ago and seeing what a great team looks like and the way they take care of the little things and pay attention to the details and execute the intellectual part of the game, that really propelled our guys into understanding that’s the way a championship-caliber team plays. That’s the way we’ve played baseball in the past, and we have to get back to doing that.
“Over the last 10 days, I’ve been really impressed with the guys,” he added. “Right now the guys are very confident, and I feel good about where they are mentally.”
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WSU went into last weekend needing to pull off a three-game sweep of UIC to win the title, but after taking the first two the Raiders fell 5-2 in the finale .
“It would have been very easy for our guys to kind of roll over and concede and say we can’t sweep them and make excuses, but they didn’t,” Mercer said. “They competed like crazy, and I was extremely proud of them.
“I’m as competitive as it comes. I want to win every game,” he continued. “But mostly, I just want them to play the game the right way. And I want to compete the right way. And I want to go about the game the way our standard has set forth. And that’s what we did. So much of our success is the self-fulfilled prophecy. So if our guys go into it believing we can do this, then we have a great chance to do that.”