FAIRBORN — The youthful Wright State Raiders baseball team spent the early innings of Saturday’s Horizon League home opener flailing at off-speed pitches and struggling to generate any kind of offense.
But once Valparaiso starter Mario Losi went to the Crusaders’ dugout after seven innings of work, Wright State’s batters got to work too. The bats came alive in the eighth inning and Wright State earned a 2-1 win on a chilly afternoon at Nischwitz Stadium.
Wright State chased Losi, who had retired 10 straight Raiders at one point in the March 18 contest, when Alex Alders and pinch hitter Daniel Arthur came up with back-t0-back one-out hits in the seventh. While they didn’t score in the inning, Losi’s pitch count was at 101 and so Valpo brought in hard throwing reliever Ellis Forman to pitch the eighth inning.
Despite the weather, that’s right when the Raiders’ bats heated up.
First, Clayton Northmont grad Zach Weatherford clouted a liner off the left centerfield wall to lead off the inning with a double. Weatherford then chugged over to third on J.D. Orr’s groundout to short, then junior second baseman Matt Morrow hit a sacrifice fly just deep enough to right center field to allow Weatherford to tag and race homeward with what ended up being the winning score.
First-year coach Jeff Mercer said his youthful team is more accustomed to tagging hard pitches than all the off-speed stuff Losi was flinging their way.
“We’re a young team. And any time you have a young bunch of players, some of the nuances of batting are more difficult for them,” Mercer explained. The Raiders roster lists 23 players who are either sophomores or freshmen.
“You look at us early, and we go south and face Clemson and South Carolina — guys with pitchers who are throwing in the mid-90 mph range — they’re going to challenge you with fastballs. We have great athletes, so we can hit those,” Mercer said. “But we come back up north and we’re now going against guys who are throwing 80-85, with all breaking balls and mixing their pitches. We’re so young, that we just have to learn as we go. We have to get more at-bats and more experience.
“Everybody in the country knows it: You throw a ball at 100 mph, we can go get it. We just have to get used to seeing the off-speed stuff, and start adjusting.”
Danny Sexton earned his first complete-game win of the season. The Pataskala lefty scattered seven Crusaders hits while striking out five. Mercer said Sexton’s pitch count was low enough to have him finish the outing, despite the cold weather. Sexton tossed 92 pitches in all.
Freshman designated hitter Alex Alders went 2-for-3 at the plate, and drove in Morrow with the Raiders’ first run with a second inning triple. Mercer recognized West Chester Lakota West sophomore catcher Brandon Giltrow for his defensive ability behind the plate.
Mercer also gave credit to assistant coach Alex Sogard for calling a good pitching game on Saturday’s win.
“He’s always so prepared. … You look at our pitching staff and they’re really tuned in, and I think a lot of that is because of the amount of work that Al’s put in. He calls a great game,” Mercer said.
Wright State continued to adjust to Valparaiso’s pitching with more success on Sunday in a doubleheader at Nischwitz.
The Raiders completed a Horizon League series sweep of Valparaiso by winning Sunday’s opener 6-1 and the nightcap 7-0.
Ryan Weiss (3-0) went seven innings for the first-game win, scattering six hits while walking none and striking out three. Evan Moores pitched the final two frames, fanning one.
At the plate, Adrian Marquez, Orr and NickWeybright had two hits, Orr and Giltrow two RBI and Weatherford two runs scored.
In Game Two, Zane Collins (2-2) struck out nine and walked none in pitching six shutout innings for the win. Daniel Kreuzer, Alex Anders and Jeremy Randolph completed the shutout as each pitched a scoreless inning.
Wright State (12-6, 3-0 Horizon) travels to Xavier for a 3 p.m. contest on Tuesday, March 21, before hosting Milwaukee in another three-game league series March 24-26 at Nischwitz.