Baseball ready to make amends for 2012, projected near top of Horizon League
A late season collapse swept the Raiders off the diamond in 2012 and sent them home with unfinished business.
Projected to win the Horizon League last year, everything went according to plan for Wright State (37-21, 20-10) until the end of May. The Raiders were swept by Milwaukee in their final regular season series, and lost to Illinois-Chicago and Youngstown State in the Horizon League Tournament.
Those losses ended a bid to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, but a reloaded 2013 squad expects to be in contention for another postseason run.
For head coach Rob Cooper, the key is putting last season behind and focusing on developing something new.
“We really don’t even talk about last year even more,” Cooper said. “This is a totally different team, even [with] the guys that were on the team last year. It has its own identity.”
Though the Raiders lose important bullpen arms like Michael Schum and Jordan Markers, as well as All-American first baseman Jake Hibberd and outfielders Tristan Moore, Kyle Mossbarger and Ryan Ashe, this year’s squad isn’t expected to drop off much. Baseball America projects the Raiders to finish second in the Horizon League, while Easton Baseball and others project the Raiders at or near the top of the conference.
Senior Garrett Gray, who batted .354 with three homers and 36 RBI, returns behind the plate and figures to be the main offensive weapon. Gray was the conference’s comeback player of the year in 2012 after missing the previous season with an injury, and looks to continue terrorizing opposing pitchers.
“He’s had a great career so far here,” Cooper said. “Garrett played every day last year.”
Up the middle, shortstop Justin Kopale and Sam Picchiotti form a strong senior tandem. Kopale made the Second Team All-Horizon League last year while batting .281 with four homers and 45 RBI.
At the hot corner, sophomore Michael Timm is projected to have a breakout season after batting .308 last year and making the All-Newcomer team.
Senior Kody Krizman (.247, 14 RBI) is a candidate to replace Hibberd at first base.
While the outfield is unsettled with the loss of Moore, Mossbarger and Ashe, the name to keep an eye on is junior college transfer Kieston Greene, who batted .366 with three home runs and 26 RBI at Parkland College and Lake Land College. Baseball America projected Greene as one of the Horizon League’s top newcomers.
“I think they work pretty hard and they’re good guys trying to become better,” Cooper said of his lineup. “I think we got a ways to go, though.”
There won’t be much uncertainty with the starting rotation as the Raiders return all three main pitchers: Taylor Braun, Joey Hoelzel and Cody Kopilchack. Braun led the trio by posting a 4.97 ERA while compiling a 6-2 record.
Out of the bullpen, Jack Van Horn (2.65 ERA) and Luke Mamer (1.72 ERA) figure to be the top arms.
“Jack Van Horn was a big part of our bullpen last year, and he’s getting healthy again,” Cooper said. “I think Travis Hissong has a chance to be an impact guy for us, and I think freshman Trevor Sweeney has a chance to be an impact guy for us.”
To fill the spots of nine departing seniors, Cooper inherited a large freshman class. While he admitted they have big shoes to fill, Cooper is pleased with the early returns.
“I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” Cooper said. “Robbie Sexton (pitcher) had a great fall. Cody Gardner is a walk-on freshman who’s gonna play for us early. They’re guys that are working hard, now we just gotta see what they can do.”
WSU opens their season on the road in Cary, NC on Friday with a game against Temple in the Ron Fraser Classic. After the three-day tournament, the Raiders will travel to South Carolina to play Clemson before returning to Fairborn Feb. 26 for their home opener against Xavier.
The main question facing the Raiders is who will provide leadership on a revamped team. Seven seniors will try to lead WSU back to the Horizon League crown and the NCAA Tournament, but their play on the field will dictate how far the team goes.
“I think Garrett Gray and (pitcher) Casey Henn have done a good job so far,” Cooper said. “But we’ll see what kind of leadership we have when we face adversity.”