Lately, when it comes to the Horizon League, it has been Wright State’s world and the rest of the conference has just been living in it.
The Raiders have been in regionals in each of the last two years, getting to a regional final each time, and prior to those back-to-back regional appearances, they had a 25-4 mark in league play and won the conference regular season crown, only to have upstart Youngstown State (a team that finished 16-36 on the year) pull a massive upset to get into the 2014 edition of the NCAA Tournament.
They’re still very much the favorites going into the 2017 season, despite some significant personnel losses.
Caleb Sampen (9-4, 2.76) and Trevor Swaney (9-2, 3.00) form a solid foundation in the starting rotation, and bullpen arms from a year ago like Zane Collins (3.02 ERA) and Mark Meyer (4.34 ERA) join them to give new head coach Jeff Mercer plenty of experience back on the mound.
Offensively, spark plug J.D. Orr (.346/.396/.420) returns, as does top power bat Gabe Snyder (.256/.359/.454, 10 HR, 48 RBI) and Matt Morrow (.267 BA, .394 OBP), who proved to be an on-base machine.
But they’re probably going to get a serious challenge at the top of the Horizon League standings, most notably from Milwaukee.
The headliner for the Panthers is reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Daulton Varsho, who hit .381/.447/.610 last year with 17 doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 51 RBI, and 16 stolen bases (in 17 attempts). He’ll be joined in the order by Billy Quirke (.273 BA, .387 OBP) and Cole Heili (.247/.330/.458, 14 doubles, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 14 SB).
On the mound, they’ll be led by Elijah Goodman (5-1, 2.73), Jay Peters (4-5, 3.30), and Adam Reuss (2-4, 3.79), all guys with plenty of starting experience, along with Jared Reklaitis (2.03 ERA, .188 OBA), who was outstanding in a relatively small sample size (26.2 IP) out of the bullpen a year ago.
Then there’s also perennial contender Illinois-Chicago.
The Flames return a number of proven hitters from last year’s team, including David Cronin (.360/.422/.455, 12 2B, 3 HR), Alex Dee (.300, 3 HR, 31 RBI), Cody Bohanek (.286, 13 2B, 15 SB), Scott Ota (.281/.348/.455, 4 3B, 4 HR), and Ricardo Ramirez (.272/.361/.472, 17 2B, 6 HR, 43 RBI).
The pitching staff isn’t quite as settled, but in Connor Ryan (2-3, 3.78) and Jake Dahlberg (6-8, 5.35, 68 K), there are some pieces in place around which to build.
Because of what they’ve accomplished of late, it’s so tough to bet against Wright State in this league, but it’s certainly not going to be easy in 2017.