The Pac-10 is one tough college baseball conference. Year in, year out. Though this might be one of those out years, the Pac-10 is still darn good. But, because other than Arizona State at the top and Oregon at the bottom, it’s a conference in which any team can win on any given day, it’s not going to have a bunch of teams in the NCAA Tournament. One of those few, however, is going to be Washington State. No matter what happens today and tomorrow against Washington, the Cougars will finish second in the nation’s most successful conference. And the second place team will always get an NCAA berth. Read on for more.
• There is always a caveat to these things, though. And it’s that caveat that’s killing the Pac-10’s postseason numbers this season. The NCAA demands a Division I baseball team have a winning record against other Division I teams before it can be considered. Washington is out because of the rule. Its loss last night to WSU ensures an overall sub-.500 record against Division I foes. UCLA is in the same boat. USC would have to sweep Cal to stay above the .500 mark. So that leaves WSU, Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona eligible for at-large berths. Forget the Wildcats, a sub-.500 Pac-10 mark doing them in. And Stanford’s conference mark is going to be right around break-even as well, so drop the Cardinal. That basically leaves the Cougars and the Beavers as the only teams that will be announced as at-large teams Monday from a conference that recently saw its sixth-place team win the national title.
The Cougars are in for sure – for the first time since 1990 – thanks to last night’s 6-5 win over UW. You can read our game story here. The win clinched second place when UCLA, a preseason favorite to compete for the conference title, lost at Arizona State. But the win didn’t come easy. Thanks to a great base-running move, the Cougars went up 1-0 – Jared Prince stopped at third on Michael Weber’s second-inning single, but raced home when he saw Kyle Conely lackadaisically toss the ball into second base. And they led 2-0 going into the eighth, but could have been up a couple runs more. WSU coach Donnie Marbut said they were passive with runners in scoring position, which was part of it, but they also struggled with their situational hitting early and ran the bases poorly, not taking the extra base when possible and running into a couple outs. But it was the Huskies who made the big error when Aaron Russell threw away a routine ground ball to open the eighth and WSU took advantage with a couple of unearned runs in the three-run inning. From there, with their coach trying to hear the roars from a hill behind the field, the Cougars found a way to win, just as they have done 29 times in this surprising year.
• We’ll leave you with some notes, courtesy of Craig Lawson in the WSU sports information office. … Sophomore Garry Kuykendall led off the first with a single to extend his career-best hitting streak to 11 games…senior Jared Prince led off the fifth with the 52nd double in his career, tied for seventh best all-time at WSU…senior Matt Way pitched at least six innings for the 14th-straight start…Way’s 13 strikeouts were the most by a Cougar since James Freeman fanned 13 against Southeastern Lousiana, Feb. 11, 2005…has 114 strikeouts this season, most by a Cougar southpaw and tied for second on the WSU single-season list…has 229 career strikeouts, sixth-most by a WSU hurler…redshirt-sophomore Jay Ponciano has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, inlcluding nine, two-hit outings…redshirt-junior Jeremy Johnson won his sixth game in relief to tie for seconed on the Cougar single-season list…his seven-career relief victories are tied for 10th all-time at WSU.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back after the game today with our story. Until then …