With renewed winning culture, Wayne State baseball ties school record with 36th victory

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rudy Ramirez was a freshman on the last team to come close.

And on Friday at Harwell Field, with his team’s backs against the wall, Wayne State’s senior right fielder wanted to make sure that the Warriors didn’t have to face coming up short again. Wayne State missed a chance Thursday to tie the single-season program record for wins for a second time.

Ramirez drove in four runs and threw out a runner at the plate during a pivotal moment in the second inning to set the tone in what would become a 10-3 win over Ashland on Friday in a Midwest Regional elimination game. The victory tied the program wins record for Wayne State (36-18) and kept the season alive.

“We came up a little short (in 2019) and it kind of was a big idea in our head that we missed out on,” Ramirez said. “Getting to 36 this year was a huge stepping stone.” 

After a loss on Thursday, Wayne State set a new school record on Friday with its 36th win.

Wayne State starting pitcher Karter Fitzpatrick tossed eight innings and allowed seven hits, two earned runs and four walks with three strikeouts. The Warriors took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth, before homers from Jacoby Dale and Chris Tanderys sparked a five-run inning to close things out.

Both Ramirez and Wayne State head coach Ryan Kelley were quick to note that there are still much bigger games to play for this season. And yet, accomplishing the milestone is not lost on them.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done behind the scenes with this team. So when they look back at it, and they see they have a piece of Wayne State baseball history with the wins and the season, I think that’s something they can look back with pride on,” Kelley said.

But for now, it’s head down, moving forward. After all, they have the chance to break that record — and keep the season going — on Saturday in an 11 a.m. elimination game against the loser of Walsh and Illinois-Springfield. 

The culture that Kelley has built, which he said is “a resemblance of the city,” wouldn’t be satisfied with anything but a win tomorrow.

“It’s definitely a hard-work culture, but it’s also, I think, a very team-oriented culture as well,” he said. “I think a lot of the student athletes buy into each other, buy into each other’s success … but I think the team-first dynamic has been special with this team and the chemistry of this club.”

The Wayne State baseball team is embracing its winning culture in its most successful season.

Brotherhood. Family. Those are words that coaches at every level typically use to instill a culture. A lot of times, it’s a gimmick. Coming in as a freshman, Ramirez himself more or less thought the same thing about those words.

And now?

“You think it’s kind of a joke, but over the four years at Wayne State, it just shows how legit it is, picking each other up and just putting your best foot forward for the guy next to you,” he said.

Again, those aren’t just words. Ramirez’s outfield assist directly followed him misplaying a ball that helped Ashland take a 2-1 lead.

“I kind of owed my team a little bit of momentum, or at least to pick myself up and do something for this team,” he said.

Winning culture

Kelley arrived after the 2008 season, and In his 14 seasons with Wayne State, he’s become the winningest baseball coach in school history (412 wins). He’s coached eight of the program’s 10 30-plus-win seasons and seven of the program’s nine NCAA Tournament appearances have come under his watch.

The previous single-season program record for wins came in 2014, when Wayne State went 36-17, en route to the school’s sixth NCAA Regionals appearance. That season, Wayne State surpassed 30 wins for a fifth straight year.

“He’s gonna hold you accountable. He’s going to bring the energy every day,” Ramirez said of his coach. “It’s just amazing. I’ve never had a coach like this before that comes in every day, no matter rain or shine, that’s gonna push you to your limits and just expect the best out of you no matter what the situation is. 

“The guy’s just freaking awesome. I love him.”

Ryan Kelley is the winningest baseball coach in Wayne State history, with 412 victories.

This year, for the first time ever, Wayne State earned the right to host an NCAA postseason game.

All of that is impressive on its own, but even more impressive when you consider this: On May 2, 1941, in Wayne State baseball’s third game in existence, the Tartars (as they were called until 1999) lost to Fort Custer, 8-5.

And since that day, the program’s all-time record has been below .500. At 1,398-1,404-16, the program is now just six games away from getting back to even.

“That was something that was on my mind earlier in my coaching career at Wayne State, to get ourselves in a position to be able to say that we have more wins than losses,” Kelley said. “We’ll see what happens as that continues to evolve and develop, but we really believe in doing the very best we can with winning. And it’s not just winning games.

"It’s winning academically, it's winning with our community service that we do, which is winning and building quality leaders that are going to carry their degree for it out of this university.”

Brotherhood. Family. At the corner of West Warren and the Lodge Service Drive, it actually means something. 

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.