Two games, two wins. Washington State’s baseball team is on a roll, thanks in a large part to a pitching staff that has punched out more opposition hitters than any in Cougar history. They reached that mark Saturday midway through a 7-1 win over UW. Read on for my unedited game story – and continuing reading for a couple links worth checking out.
• Here’s the game story …
PULLMAN – Crash Davis would take issue with this Washington State University pitching staff.
Unlike the fictional catcher from “Bull Durham,” the Cougars don’t think there’s anything boring or fascist about strikeouts.
In the opener of their three-game Pac-10-ending baseball series with the University of Washington, two Cougar pitchers combined for 15. Saturday, as WSU clinched the series with a 7-1 win over the Huskies before 1,771 at Bailey-Brayton Field, Chad Arnold and Adam Conley teamed up for 14 more.
In the process, Washington State set a school single-season record. And the Cougars’ 415 strikeouts are a big reason why they’re headed for college baseball’s version of the show, next week’s NCAA Tournament.
So how does WSU do it, despite a staff that doesn’t feature guys with Nuke LaLoosh’s heater?
“They do a great job keeping guys off balance, mixing pitches,” said catcher Jay Ponciano, the redshirt sophomore who keyed WSU’s offense with three hits, including his third home run of the season.
“That’s one of our big things, try not to throw two of the same pitches in a row,” he said. He paused and added, “and then locating.”
WSU coach Donnie Marbut sees WSU’s success as a combination of pitching coach Gregg Swenson’s method and a staff that has the right attitude.
“Those guys buy into (Swenson’s) plan,” Marbut said after the Cougars had raised their Pac-10 record to 18-8 and their overall mark to 30-23. “And then we’ve got the right personnel, guys who attack.
“They did today. Chad was good, he mixed his pitches, and Adam came in and attacked. When you throw the ball over the plate, good things will happen.”
Especially against the Huskies, who came into the weekend having struck out 59 more times than any other Pac-10 team.
UW coach Ken Knutson pointed out the Huskies (25-29, 13-13) had been handicapped by injuries much of the year, limiting situational moves.
But, he added, “I don’t know. We’ve got some swing and miss guys it seems like. Believe me we work at it and we’ve tried to get it better. And it was better coming into this weekend and then today and yesterday, it was just poor.”
Arnold (7-3) punched out a career-high eight Huskies in his 5 2/3 innings of work.
Arnold got into trouble just once, loading the bases with one out in the fifth on a double and two walks. But a strikeout and ground out to first spiked the rally.
“You don’t want adversity, but I like when Chad gets put into adversity, because he keeps coming out of it,” Marbut said of the redshirt sophomore. “It just shows how much he’s matured and how tough he’s getting.”
Freshman left-hander Conley, who earned his first college save, added six more strikeouts in the final 3 1/3, including sending four UW hitters back to the dugout after called third strikes.
“Conley just spotted up on that inside black corner,” Ponciano said. “It’s nice when the ump’s giving you that pitch and he certainly was.”
Arnold and Conley were so dominate, if sophomore first baseman Troy Scott’s three hits – including a shutout-busting, 400-foot home run to center with two outs in the ninth – were tossed out, the two would have combined for a no-hitter.
Ponciano matched Scott’s offensive output, marking the first time this year he’s collected more than two hits in a game. Of course, in his last baker’s dozen games, he’s had two hits in 10 of them, raising his average to .372.
That’s despite not having played significant innings until midway through the year.
“I hate to say this about Jay, but he’s probably the worst (batting practice) guy I’ve ever seen,” Marbut said. “Come game time the guy can just turn it on. He’s got a lot of confidence. … When he gets in the batter’s box, that’s his batter’s box.”
It was all the Cougars’ Saturday, an 11-hit attack that started with Jared Prince’s solo home run in the second – keying a three-run rally – continuing through Ponciano and Matt Argyropoulos’ fourth-inning solo bombs and culminating in Ponciano’s two-run single in the fifth.
The 30-win season has triggered memories for Marbut, back to his first year in 2005, when the Cougars finished 1-23 in conference. Seeing a 30-win, second-place conference season four years down the road, was it possible?
“No,” he answered. “Not during the year I didn’t. I hoped, but I didn’t see it.”
But he could dream it.
“That was our vision when we recruited these guys,” he said. “Our goal was to play for Pac-10 and national championships. You know, we didn’t win a Pac-10 championship, but we were in the mix all year and that’s all you can ask out of your kids.”
• That’s the gamer. Now some links. The Seattle Times in Sunday’s paper is looking at the tight finances in the athletic departments at our state’s colleges and universities. The stories are available now, so here is Bud Wither’s story about WSU’s tight finances, though the Cougars still haven’t announced how they will balance the budget. And Bob Condotta has this piece outlining UW athletic director Scott Woodward’s hope for conference revenue sharing.
• That’s it for tonight. The Cougars will find out where they are headed early Monday morning and we’ll be covering that. But before then, we’ll be back in the morning with links. Until then …