Wayne State University baseball aims to be NCAA Division II contender

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published March 19, 2014

 Pictured is Wayne State University outfielder Chris Gebara. Gebara, who attended Troy High School, is one of three senior captains on the Warriors’ roster.

Pictured is Wayne State University outfielder Chris Gebara. Gebara, who attended Troy High School, is one of three senior captains on the Warriors’ roster.

Photo courtesy of Wayne State University athletics

In recent seasons, the accomplishments of Wayne State University’s baseball program include making the NCAA Division II tournament in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The Warriors also won a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) championship in 2010, and have finished in second place every year since.

But for all the recent success, there is one big goal that still remains — making it to the College World Series. Wayne State has been one game away from accomplishing that feat on two separate occasions, making it to the regional championship game in 2008 and 2011.

“We always have the goal of getting to the NCAA Division II World Series,” said head coach Ryan Kelley. “We strive for it; we talk about it. It would be an amazing accomplishment. It would be something that would probably be pinnacle within our history. It would be amazing not only from a current standpoint with our program, but all the previous letter-winners that have ever suited up for the green and gold. And then having the opportunity to say that you’ve been in the College World Series would help tremendously for future endeavors — recruiting and development.”

Kelley cited pitching, good defense, team unity and putting pressure on teams from an offensive standpoint as keys to the Warriors’ success. While he also mentioned staying healthy as a key, Kelley added that there are “good resources in place with our strength and conditioning and sports medicine department to help us reach that.”

What could also help Wayne State in pursuit of its goals is strong leadership from its three senior captains, Chris Gebara (Troy High School), Eric Cunningham (St. Thomas of Villanova) and Kirk Stambaugh (Southview).

“I expect them to obtain a quality sense of leadership,” Kelley said. “Not just the way you play the game, but the way you handle yourself on and off the field. The way you help motivate your teammates. I expect them to have big years, in terms of that. I look to them to be able to balance the ability to not only play the game effectively, but be a good leader.”

While it may be easy to focus on all the success that has occurred on the baseball diamond, including having 34 players come through the program who Kelley said have had the opportunity to “advance professionally,” that isn’t necessarily the only thing on his mind when it comes to the state of Wayne State’s baseball program.

“We’re at a very exciting state of the program,” Kelley said. “We announced the Ernie Harwell Stadium project. We’re in the middle of (the) fundraising process with that right now. That’s opened up a lot of doors with community leaders, alumni, special guests associated with Wayne State University. It’s an exciting time whenever you go through a stadium project.

“Also, academically, our team grade-point average is pushing 3.1. We’ve got guys that have gone on to do big things in the real world, so it’s good to see that. The state of the program’s in a exciting time, but we’re looking to continue to move it forward and get the most out of our players.”

The announcement of the Harwell Field Project came in June of last year, and according to Wayne State’s website, is “a tribute to that long partnership between the famed Tiger broadcaster and his wife Lula “Lulu.”

“The campaign is to name the field in their shared honor.”

Since the announcement, while he didn’t have the exact figure, Kelley said “I think we’re pushing $300,000 raised.” The target goal is to raise $550,000 in order to move forward “from an infrastructure standpoint.”

Kelley offered more thoughts regarding the project.

“We definitely need help from all those Ernie Harwell fans out there to help move this stadium initiative forward,” he said. “Beyond it being a ballpark Wayne State will use, high schools and youth organizations will be able to use it.”

Kelley also added that the stadium would “feature kind of a museum environment where people can come back and visit and understand and appreciate the legacy of the great Ernie Harwell and his wife, Lulu.”

Local players on Wayne State’s roster include Cole Clifton (Warren De La Salle), Christian Bilkovic (West Bloomfield), Hunter Van Maele (Walled Lake Northern), Tyler Tompson (Farmington), Jake Davis (Rochester Hills Stoney Creek), Cameron Walker (De La Salle), Griffin Harms (Birmingham Groves) and Joey Hartfelder (West Bloomfield).

At press time, Wayne State had a record of 8-1.

The Warriors are scheduled to play a doubleheader at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively, March 19 in road games at Ashland.