WSU (34-18, 19-8 HL) will play host to UIC (35-13, 21-6) Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Nischwitz Stadium. Anything short of a sweep means the Raiders will head back to Chicago for next week’s conference tournament instead of playing at home for the second year in a row.
Both teams have been dominant at home (WSU 21-4, UIC 23-5) and just average on the road (WSU 12-13, UIC 10-7) this season.
“A critical component to winning a championship is playing on a field that you’re built to a play on,” Mercer said. “They’re built to play in their park. Their turf is slow and the ball plays up and they’re a great defensive team, so they’re really hard to beat at their place.
“Our turf plays fast and our ballpark is big, which plays to our speed,” he continued. “So home field is a big advantage.”
Two host teams in the last nine years have gone on to the win the tournament. But both times it was Wright State (in 2016 and 2011), which is why the Raiders are spending the week staring at screens instead of seams.
“When you go back and watch the mistakes, there’s nowhere to hide,” Mercer said. “It’s not about embarrassment. It’s about accountability. The players in the past who won championships here went through the same thing. All those great players who were here sat in these same meetings and watched these same videos and cringed at the same things, but they handled it with maturity and they went out and adjusted and got better.
“The important thing for us to do is be introspective,” Mercer continued. “That’s what great teams do. They self-evaluate and they adjust and move forward.”
And because classes ended nearly two weeks ago, the players have had plenty of time to self-evaluate.
“It’s been all baseball, all the time, which for us as coaches has been terrific to really get in there and get after it and coach guys,” Mercer said.
The Raiders and Flames will play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday before closing the regular season with a 2 p.m. contest Saturday, which will follow the Senior Day ceremony for Trevor Swaney, Daniel Arthur, Kevin Whatley, Nick Weybright and Mark Meyer.
As big as sweeping the series would be for increasing the chances of going to a third-consecutive NCAA tournament for the first time since becoming a Division I program in 1988, Mercer knows his team is capable of celebrating another HL championship even it means doing it on enemy turf.
It’s just not something he’s interesting in discussing with the players at this point.
“We haven’t broached the subject of not winning the regular season,” he said. “I’m a huge believer in self-fulfilling prophecies and positive self-talk and belief. So that’s a bridge we’ll cross if we’re not able to complete the task this weekend, but right now it’s been fully committed to taking care of this weekend.”