- A ninth inning rally to beat Southeast Missouri State, compliments of Jake Hibberd’s grand slam.
- Huge wins over Big East teams like Cincinnati and West Virginia.
- The come-from-behind win in the Horizon League Championship against Valparaiso.
All are highlights from a successful 2011 season, which are helping to embolden the 2012 Wright State baseball Raiders, who began a new season in February. The Raiders return every starting position player but one from a squad that finished second in the nation in batting last year. Calling themselves the Raider Gang, their own expectations are high. However, with the 2012 season underway, this team knows last year’s successes don’t mean much, said Head Baseball Coach Rob Cooper.
“The 2012 team has a lot of guys back. It’s a senior-laden team,” said Cooper, who has led the Raiders to the league championship game five times in six years and to three NCAA regionals. “So to the outsider looking in, they’ll assume it’s pretty much the same team, but it’s not. Every team is different and has its own personality.”
Though his team appears to be loaded, Cooper’s goal, as always, is steeped in the mantra “practice and fundamentals.” “We want our guys to be the best practice and preparation team in the country,” said Cooper.
The 2012 Raiders appear to be loaded with hitters. Leading the offense are senior outfielder Tristan Moore; senior third baseman and Horizon League tournament MVP Zach Tanner; clutch-hitting junior shortstop Justin Kopale; and Hibberd, the senior first baseman who led the Horizon League in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in as a junior.
The Raiders suffered a blow to their pitching staff when they lost Casey Henn, the team’s No.1 pitcher for the last two years, to Tommy John surgery. But Cooper says the staff as a whole remains strong and will be backed by a superb bullpen.
Wright State returns side-arming senior closer Michael Schum, who went 9-2 in 2011 with nine saves and a 1.37 earned run average. The performance earned Schum All-America honors. He was also named the Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year.
Cooper is cautious entering 2012; “I know this team is close, but we haven’t faced much adversity yet. When we were down 3-1 in the league championship game last year, I was never sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to lose this game,’” said Cooper. “Just because of the way these guys were going, they never flinched.”
In his first three years at Wright State, Hibberd played in three league championship games. With expectations for 2012 just as high, he said, “This might be my last year playing baseball, and this is going to be the last year for a lot of our seniors. So I think our motivation is pushing our limits to see how far we can take this team. It’s going to be a pretty special team.
“I believe we can get right back to the point where we were last year.”