After an emotional speech praising his seven seniors, after many tears and just as many hugs, Wright State baseball coach Rob Cooper had one more thing to add.
“Seniors eat first,” he said.
It wasn’t the happiest of postgame meals. A senior class that won Horizon League regular-season championships in its first two seasons closed the regular season Saturday with a 1-0 loss to Illinois-Chicago at Nischwitz Stadium.
The Raiders will be the No. 4 seed in the Horizon League tournament and will play No. 5 Youngstown State in the opening game of the double-elimination event Wednesday at Eastwood Field in Niles.
Wright State (22-28, 9-12) completed its first losing regular season since Cooper’s first season in 2005, but the Raiders can put that behind them now.
“It’s not the way I’d like to send out a group (of seniors) for sure,” Cooper said. “I always want them to win their last game at home, but the minute the game got over and we went in (the locker room), I said, ‘You know what the best thing is, officially everyone is 0-0. Nobody has an ERA. Nobody has a batting average.’ That’s the way you’ve got to approach it.”
Because of rainouts, Wright State played only three games against No. 1 seed Milwaukee (28-19, 14-7), losing two out of three at Nischwitz in March. The Raiders split six games with No. 2 seed UIC (26-26, 13-11) and No. 5 Youngstown (14-41, 8-16) and lost four out of six to No. 3 Valparaiso (28-26, 13-11), the defending tournament champion.
Saturday’s loss didn’t affect how Cooper feels about his team’s chances next week.
“We’ve gone into the tournament not playing well and won the tournament,” he said. “We’ve gone into the tournament when we thought we were playing well and just not gotten it done. All we’ve got to worry about is Wednesday.”
Saturday’s game was the final home appearance for shortstop Justin Kopale, designated hitter Kody Krizman, second baseman Sam Picchiotti, catcher Garrett Gray and pitchers Cody Kopilchack, Casey Henn and Tanner Howell.
In the last four seasons, the Raiders are 126-93. Considering that record, Saturday’s loss was an aberration.
UIC didn’t even get a hit until the seventh, but it had plenty of baserunners throughout because eight Raider pitchers combined to walk six and hit four.
The Raiders had a chance to strike first, but John Brodner was thrown out at home by UIC left fielder Alex De LaRosa after a two-out single by Jeff Limbaugh.
The Flames took the lead in the ninth with an RBI single by pinch hitter Ryan Boss.
Wright State had a chance to tie in the bottom of the ninth. Kieston Greene singled to lead off, but he was stranded at second on a long fly ball to center by Brodner to end the game.