Butler grad comes up huge as Raiders roll in HL tourney opener

Even after jumping out to a comfortable early lead, Wright State coach Jeff Mercer admitted he had some concerns about following his plan to pull staff ace Ryan Weiss early from Thursday’s Horizon League tournament opener in order to save him for Saturday’s finals.

But Mitch Gremling dismissed all worries with five impressive innings of relief to enable the top-seeded Raiders to coast into Friday’s winners bracket final with an 11-1 victory against Youngstown State at Nischwitz Stadium.

“He struggled at times earlier this year and battled some injuries, but I told him there’s going to come a day when this team is going to rely on you and the team is going to be on your shoulders and you’re going to have to carry the load, and he did that,” Mercer said of Gremling.

›› WSU offense in high gear entering the the tournament

A sophomore right-hander from Butler High School, Gremling (2-3) allowed just two hits while striking out four and walking none in his longest outing of the year, which came on the heels of one of Weiss’ shortest.

A first-team All-HL selection, Weiss threw just 58 pitches while limiting the Penguins to two hits through four innings. He struck out six and walked none while retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced before Mercer pulled him with an 8-1 lead.

“There was a lot of trepidation,” Mercer admitted. “But we spent the last three weeks planning for every possible scenario. And for us to win a championship, we’ve got to have our best players on the field in the championship game. So if the game presents an opportunity to do that and be able to bring Ryan back, you have to take advantage of it.”

›› WSU slugger named HL Player of the Year

The WSU offense gave Mercer the luxury of doing it by scoring in each of the first five innings.

Bentley Jones had a tie-breaking two-run double in the second inning, and Chase Slone added a three-double in the third to give the Raiders a 6-1 lead.

Both hits came with two outs.

“That’s something we take a lot of pride in, being able to hit with two outs,” Slone said. “Coach Mercer told us in the meeting that championships are won with two strikes and two outs. If we can capitalize in those opportunities, we’re going to have a good chance to win the tournament.”

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Mercer said he considered removing Weiss after the third with a 6-1 lead. The Raiders made the decision easier, upping the lead to 8-1 on Peyton Burdick’s RBI single and HL Player of the Year Gabe Snyder’s sacrifice fly made it 8-1 after four.

“We were able to score early and get a little bit of a cushion and really manage the game in a best-case scenario situation,” Mercer said.

JD Orr scored three runs while going 3 for 4 with a double, walk and RBI while upping his HL-leading stolen base total to 34 with two of the six steals the Raiders recorded.

“We’re taught to steal bases and be aggressive and no lead is out of the question, especially when you don’t have your ace on the mound,” Orr said. “So it was really important to play our ballgame.”

Zach Weatherford added two steals and a run scored, while Matt Morrow went 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI and Burdick drove in two runs and stole a base as WSU won for the 10th time in its last 11 home games and improved to 17-3 at Nischwitz this season.

The Raiders will play at noon Friday against No. 2 seed UIC, which beat No. 3 Milwaukee 6-0 in Thursday’s second game.

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