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Wayne State baseball eager to open NCAA play

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Sure, you could say the Wayne State baseball team is limping into the Division II NCAA Tournament.

Coach Ryan Kelley wouldn’t say that, though, even though the Warriors were two-and-done in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament last week.

Senior right-handed ace Chris Horvath went 8.2 innings in the opener, but the bats couldn’t get going in a 2-1 loss. Then in Game 2, Wayne State took a one-run lead into the ninth inning, but Hillsdale scored four off the bullpen.

And that was that.

“We just couldn’t finish the game in the ninth inning, which we’ve seen around the city of Detroit here,” Kelley said, with a hearty laugh. “We’ll bounce through it just like the Tigers will bounce through it.”

Now, that’s optimism. At least on the Tigers’ front.

Wayne State (31-19) will look to regroup in the NCAAs, having earned an at-large bid and the No. 6 seed in a Midwest Regional in Midland. The Warriors open against No. 3 seed Quincy (32-20), out of Illinois, in the double-elimination regional at 8:30 Thursday. The teams actually played early last season, with Quincy prevailing, 9-8, in a nine-inning thriller.

Host Northwood is the regional’s No. 1 seed, and opens at 1:30 Thursday against eighth-seeded Kentucky-Wesleyan.

Wayne State is in the NCAAs for the seventh time in program history, but first since 2014.

“There’s definitely a buzz,” said Kelley, who this year became the program’s winningest coach — and a second-place finish in the GLIAC regular season, behind Northwood. “We’ve been calling it ‘bonus baseball’ a little bit this week, just taking advantage of the opportunity and embracing every moment.”

Offensively, Wayne State is led by junior Brad Baldwin, a Madison Heights Bishop Foley lum who’s batting .371 with 38 RBIs; and Griffin Harms, a red-shirt senior from Birmingham Groves who’s batting .315 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs.

On the mound, it’s Horvath whom the Warriors turn to time and again, and he’ll start the opener tonight, too. A senior from Ontario, he’s a workhorse, at 5-4 with a 3.06 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. Jared Tobey, a left-handed junior from St. Clair, will start Game 2, whether Wayne State wins or loses its opener.

The Warriors also boast a deep bullpen, led by left-handed red-shirt junior Taylor Horn (2.0 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 44.2 innings) and senior right-hander Tyler Tompson from Farmington (23 strikeouts in 19.2 innings).

Whatever happens this week, Kelley, the program’s head coach since 2009, likes this team, which, he said, had a 3.3 grade-point average — and attacks class with the same focus it attacks the ballgame.

“How the guys prepare in the classroom transcends onto the the field,” he said. “ Our guys really bought into the process of taking care of business.”


NCAA Regionals

Who: No. 6 Wayne State vs. No. 3 Quincy

What: Opening game of a Midwest Regional

When: 8:30 tonight

Where: Midland, Mich.

Records: Wayne State 31-19, Quincy 32-20

Outlook: This is Wayne State’s seventh trip to the NCAAs, and first since 2014.


NCAA Super Regional

Who: Wayne State vs. Southern Indiana

What: Best-of-three Midwest Regional series

When: 5 tonight, 2:30 Friday, 5 Friday (if necessary)

Where: Evansville, Ind.

Records: Wayne State 40-14, Southern Indiana 44-12

Outlook: Wayne State is looking for its first College World Series appearance since 2014.