Baseball: Season of high hopes shot down
Despite having the Horizon League’s best record in 24 years, it was challenging for Wright State head coach Greg Lovelady to call the year a success.
Wright State was a powerful steam train barreling through the regular season. Amassing a 25-4 Horizon League record, it seemed WSU was destined to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
But the locomotive was derailed by last place Youngstown State twice last weekend as the Penguins stunned the league by taking the Horizon League Championships.
The Raiders finished the tournament in second place. Overall, WSU went 36-21 on the season with a win over the No. 1 team in the nation early in the season.
“It was an unbelievable year, we had the best year in Wright State history. We had the best year ever in the Horizon League,” Lovelady said. “But when you look back at it, the season wasn’t an absolute success. When you play in a tournament like that, it is the team who is the hottest and that plays the best that week and not necessarily the team that was the best over the course of the long season.”
The tournament started out sour as the Raiders looked flat in a 7-1 loss to Youngstown State last Thursday. The loss meant the Raiders had to go through the losers bracket and win four games in order to take the Horizon League crown.
The following afternoon, pitcher Robby Sexton led the Raiders in a complete game shutout topping Valpo 7-0 and completing his first complete game shutout of the season.
In Saturday’s first game versus Milwaukee, Lovelady yanked starter E.J. Trapino in the second inning and handed the ball to the bullpen. The Raiders rallied from a 3-0 deficit thanks in large part to an incredible relief outing by Andrew Elliott. Elliott, Horizon League’s top reliever as voted on by coaches, struck out 13 in 6.1 innings pitched.
Elliott was credited for the win when Michael Timm forced a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 12th to score John Brodner knocking UWM out of the Championships.
Wright State got a rematch in Saturday’s second game needing to beat the Penguins twice en route to the league title.
Things looked good for WSU going into the ninth as the Raiders held a 4-3 lead. With Elliott unable to close in his usual spot for WSU, the Raiders turned to Joey Hoelzel who struggled versus the Penguins on Thursday but was otherwise sharp all year.
Lovelady said he would have liked to have had Elliott in Saturday’s game versus YSU but he did not want his best pitcher to be on the bench with the season on the line.
Hoelzel got two batters out in the ninth but an error by third baseman Jack Murphy cost the Raiders. The Penguins would go on to have a pair of RBI singles which allowed for the tying and go-ahead runs to score to give YSU a 5-4 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Raiders went down in order giving the league title to YSU.
“We had them right where we wanted to,” Lovelady said. “I don’t think at any point, we were out of pitching.”
Lovelady said Hoelzel is looking at professional options and has drawn interest by professional teams. He added that eight players will be playing summer club baseball around the Midwest with potentially a few others to join.
Lovelady completed player evaluations Wednesday and is shifting his focus to next year where a tough schedule is already taking shape. The Raiders have already booked a series against Ole Miss and is close to completing a contract with the University of Miami, Lovelady’s alma mater.