Evansville (Ind.) provided plenty of positive commentary leading up to its trip to Oxford last week, and the upcoming opponent in Wright State is already no different. The Horizon League Raiders will be the fourth consecutive team to open its season in Oxford as they make the trek from Dayton, Ohio.
‘We're very excited to come down there," said Wright State head coach Rob Cooper. "To get the season started, it is a complete gauge for us to see how good we are against a quality team. It's exciting to have an opportunity to play in a regional-type atmosphere at the end of February."
As eager as the Raiders are to be pitted against the Rebels, some enthusiasm centers on simply being able to be outdoors and grace a baseball diamond. Ohio's snow and inclement weather has severely limited Wright State's preparation. The team's scheduled series at Morehead State last weekend was cancelled.
"We have not been able to get on our field since November because of the snow," Cooper said. "So it is hard to predict what will happen with the team when they have been practicing in a basketball gym all of January and February. It is possible to get better, but there is no doubt that we will not be as sharp as a team like Ole Miss. They are a group that has been outdoors and constantly plays the game the way it is supposed to be played."
Ole Miss has posted a 5-1 record to begin the season and quieted whispers about a struggling offense after the 12-9 win over Memphis that featured four home runs. Of the five victories, the Rebels are finding different formulas to take games on the young season. The weekend rotation has been solid and aided the offense's slow start by not allowing more than four runs during any contest so far.
"I know that Mike Bianco is not going to feel sorry for us and spot us two runs because we haven't played yet," Cooper added. "They have won some games so far, and the only way to host two straight super regionals is by showing up to play everyday."
The nonconference schedule facing the Raiders following Oxford doesn't get much simpler as they head to New Orleans for a three-game set with Tulane. Also littered throughout the slate are a mid-week date with Tennessee and a weekend affair with Miami (Fla.)
"I am in my third year here, and we are trying to up the nonconference caliber of our schedule," said Cooper, a former Tulane assistant and a Miami (Fla.) graduate. "Last year, we played Notre Dame and Wake Forest and Miami. There is no question that helps in attempting to win our conference tourney and making the NCAAs"
Winning the conference and making the Big Dance is exactly what occurred for the Raiders in 2006. Wright State hosted the Horizon League tournament and took the title as the No. 3 seed in order to earn the automatic berth for the second time in school history.
The tournament win sent Wright State to Corvallis, Ore., where it was quickly dismissed by eventual national champion Oregon State and Hawaii. Although the Raiders were two-and-out, a little confidence was gained during the event.
"We lost the first two games, but we were tied with Oregon State 3-3 in the eighth before losing 5-3," said Cooper. "So to lose close like that against the national champs should without a doubt help us mentally this weekend and this season. It shows that we can play with anyone."
The Raiders lost two of their top four hitters from 2006, as well as two of their top three pitchers, including their ace.
Cooper summed up the weekend with one last appreciation of what Ole Miss and Bianco and his staff have been able to create.
"Most importantly, we are going to get started, play in some good weather, and be a part of one of the best environments against one of the best baseball programs in the country."
Wright State Rotation
Friday (3 p.m.)
Garrett Holleran: 6-5, 190 SR R/R Phoenix, Ariz.
(4-7, 6.75, 20 app., 25 BBs and 38 Ks)
Saturday (1:30 p.m.)
Danny Barker: 6-2, 170, JR R/R Dayton Ohio (Transferred from Ohio State)
(4-1, 2.97, 18 app., 17 BBs and 29 Ks)
Sunday (1:30 p.m.)
Kyle Kearcher: 6-6, 205, SR L/L Mattawan, Mich.
(1-1, 8.56, 11 app., 8 BBs and 5 Ks)
Wright State looking forward to Oxford
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