Feb. 6, 2012

click here for CBI Horizon preview


Wright man for the job

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @RoadToOmaha


(Note: After this article was written, CBI learned that Wright State senior right-hander Casey Henn will miss the 2012 season following Tommy John surgery.)


DAYTON, Ohio – When you hire a coach, you hope for someone who will build a solid program. Wright State certainly did that with Rob Cooper.


Cooper (left) enters his eighth year with the Raiders and has constructed a consistent winner. After having a losing season in his first campaign, Wright State has posted six straight seasons of at least 30 wins, with three conference titles and three trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Raiders have earned at least a share of the regular season title in the Horizon League in each of the past two seasons.


Wright State was 36-19 overall in 2011 and 16-7 in league play. Cooper, a former assistant at Oral Roberts, was named Horizon League Coach of the Year for the second straight season.


“As we’ve gotten this thing going, it’s been the upperclassmen in our program educating the new guys,” Cooper said. “This is how we do things, basically coaching them along with us.”


There are plenty of those upperclassmen on this year’s squad, with 10 seniors and seven juniors. Two of those seniors include All-Americans Jake Hibberd and Michael Schum (right).


“The redshirt freshman year that I had, I had the mentorship of two or three or four of the older guys,” Schum said. They took me under their wing. I took everything they had to say to heart and continued to do what they told me to do. Obviously it helped out.


“Now as a senior, it’s fun to take people under your wing. You want them to be able to take your spot. ‘Hey, I’m challenging you to take my spot before this year is over.’ I feel like in doing that we have that success that transfers from year to year. Over the years it continues instead of having to rebuild. We can continue with the guys we have.”


Wright State gave Schum his only Division I offer. After redshirting in 2008, Schum posted 13 saves with a 1.95 ERA in earning All-America honors as a freshman. The native of Bright, Ind., struggled in 2010, but rebounded with a huge season a year ago, going 9-2 with nine saves and a 1.37 ERA with six walks and 41 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.


“He had a hand in half of our wins,” Cooper said. “We can bring him in in the fifth inning if we have to. It’s such a nice thing to go to the bullpen and know that you have a guy that can give you a chance to finish out that game every time.”


Hibberd is happy to have his closer back.


“Having him come out there in the ninth or the eighth, you know they’re going to get ground balls,” Hibberd said. It’s a great feeling, especially when the hitters have worked so hard to either get a lead or keep us in the game and then Michael comes in and shuts them down. He’s been a huge asset to the team for the last three years and we’re lucky to have him come out here again.”


Hibberd (left) had a monster year in 2011. The first baseman from nearby Miamisburg won the Triple Crown in the Horizon League, hitting .407 in 55 starts with nine homers, 21 doubles, 42 runs and 56 RBI.


“He was locked in,” Cooper said. “When guys pitched around him, he didn’t chase. He was so quiet and so confident. It was one of the most mature approaches to hitting I’ve been around in my entire career.”


Schum recognized Hibberd’s leadership.


“He goes about this stuff the right way, every day,” Schum said. “He’s one who will take charge. He has the ability to take charge because he’s on the field constantly. He was our first baseman last year and does a great job over there. He brings a lot of energy and is a heck of a teammate.”


The Raiders won a pair of one-run contests against Valparaiso to secure the 2011 Horizon League Championship. But Wright State didn’t perform in the College Station Regional as it did during the season, getting shut out twice to end its season.


Wright State returns its top seven hitters and 10 of its top 11, including senior infielder Zach Tanner (.374, 15 2B, 5 HR, 34 RBI), senior outfielder Tristan Moore (.352, 17 2B, 5 HR, 46 RBI), junior infielder Justin Kopale (.321, 11 2B, 3 HR, 28 RBI) and senior catcher Corey Davis (.312, 15 2B, 8 HR, 40 RBI). Along with closer Schum, the Raiders will have senior starter Casey Henn (7-4, 4.83 ERA) back to lead the pitching staff.


“This is a senior-laden group,” Cooper said. “It’s also a senior-laden group that has played in three championship games in their three years. They’ve beaten two No. 1-ranked teams. When these guys were freshmen, they beat Georgia when they were ranked No. 1. When they were sophomores, they beat Virginia when they were ranked No. 1.”


The Raiders again will have a challenging non-conference slate, visiting NC State, North Carolina and Virginia.


“It’s totally by design,” Cooper said. “I’m very fortunate because I’ve got an administration that understands what we’re trying to do. In 2009 we started the season 1-9 and ended up going to a regional.


“The thing that’s great about it is that our guys love it. It’s exciting. The reason why I love it is because at the end of that period, this is where we’re really at. If we are fortunate enough to go to a regional, chances are we’re going to get sent to a UNC or Charlottesville or A&M. I want our guys to experience that in case we’re fortunate enough to go.”


So should Wright State be penciled in for a regional spot?


“What you constantly have to fight against is that it just happens because we show up, that just happens because it happened last year,” Cooper said. “We have a lot of guys back but what you have to guard against with our guys, or with any team, is we’re not last year. This is a brand new team. And this is a brand new team that hasn’t won anything, hasn’t won a game this year, hasn’t won a conference game this year. At the end of the day, it’s nice what’s on paper, but that’s all it is, is paper.”


(photos courtesy of Wright State Media Relations Office)