COUGARS • UPDATED: Noon, Tuesday
We're slowly rounding back into midseason form after our injury-lengthened layoff, but it's obvious we've got some work to do. Too many adjectives, a misplaced modifier here and there and a little too reliant on clichés. All things that should work itself out as the rust wears off. We have some baseball news and other notes, so read on.
• The first thing we have for you is our college baseball notebook. It leads with the Cougars and their upcoming stretch run in the Pac-10. ...
• UPDATE: The rain wins. Due to the persistent rain in Spokane, tonight's game between WSU and GU has been canceled and will not be made up. So WSU has eight games left to make an NCAA statement.
PULLMAN – May was just two days old when Washington State University baseball coach Donnie Marbut decided to ask his team a question.
"We talked after the Oregon series that we had a 16-game season," Marbut said Monday. "What can we do in 16 games?"
Before May ends, Marbut will know the answer. Halfway through the month that will decide if the Cougars (28-18 overall) will appear in back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time since 1988 (postseason bids are announced Monday, May 31), the results have been nearly perfect.
Since the Oregon series ended in consecutive losses, dropping WSU's overall record to 22-17, 6-9 in Pac-10 play, the Cougars have won six of seven overall, five of six conference games – the only loss was last Friday at Stanford, 8-7, in a game WSU led 7-3 going into the bottom of the eighth – and have moved into a tie for third in the conference standings.
Besides asking the pertinent questions, what else is the WSU staff up to?
"We're kind of just staying out of their way, to be honest with you," Marbut said. "It's their team."
With two Pac-10 series – WSU hosts last-place USC this weekend then travels to No. 10 UCLA to end the regular season – and three non-conference games – including a 6:30 visit tonight to Gonzaga – remaining, Marbut thinks the Cougar postseason chances are solid.
"I think we're in a good position right now," he said, "with our strength of schedule – we play one of the toughest schedules in the country – our RPI (in the top 35 nationally) is high and placing high in the league.
"It goes without saying this year the Pac-10 is the toughest conference in the country."
Eight Pac-10 teams have been ranked at least once this season – WSU remerged in the rankings this week, earning the No. 24 spot in Baseball America Magazine's poll – which bolsters Marbut's point. And underscores the Cougars' goals.
"Our whole goal is to try to win series," Marbut said. "In this league if you win series, you know you're doing good things. We try to win every game we play and try to win a series against a good club, because every weekend you play a good club."
If WSU posts at least a 4-2 conference mark the next two weeks, an at-large berth would seem to be a given. Though nothing seemed so clear after the Oregon series.
The Cougars expected their rotation this season to be junior ace Chad Arnold, sophomore left-hander David Stilley and freshman Travis Cook. Of that trio, only Arnold (4-2 with a 3.43 ERA pitching exclusively on Friday night, when college teams throw their premier starter) remains due to injuries and ineffectiveness.
Junior James Wise and former closer Adam Conley are now rounding out the rotation, both of whom pitched well at Stanford.
Wise, who entered Saturday's game with a 1-1 record, a 5.23 ERA and more hits than innings pitched, left it as the Pac-10's pitcher of the week, going eight shutout innings, giving up four hits, walking one and striking out eight. His ERA dropped to 4.20.
"When it comes to pitching, we've had no consistency in the rotation. Coach Swenson has done a great job of mixing and matching and keep developing guys," Marbut said, mentioning pitching coach Gregg Swenson.
"I'm way more proud of this year's team than last year's team," Marbut added. "This team has gone through so much adversity and injuries."
NOTES: As the season winds down, Gonzaga's Mark Castellitto is heating up. The senior leftfielder has raised his average to .339, but more impressively leads the Zags with 11 home runs and 45 RBI, fifth in the WCC. Centerfielder Drew Heid's .383 is third in the conference and his 82 hits leads. Freshman second baseman Clayton Eslick moved into the clean up spot in the Zags' 2-1 series win over St. Mary's last weekend and responded with a 4-for-11 weekend that included four RBI. ... Tonight's game with WSU kicks off an eight-game homestand for Gonzaga to complete the season. ... Community Colleges of Spokane finished its season 25-19, but the Sasquatch's 13-15 conference record (fifth in East Region standings) wasn't good enough to get them into the NWAACC championships in Longview at the end of the month. Sophomore Taylor King led CCS with three home runs and 32 RBI while hitting .293. Sophomore Derek Carley posted the team's highest average at .346. Sophomore Justin Murphy finished the season with five wins and three saves, both team highs, while sophomore Martin Aguirre and freshman Dillon Watkins and four wins each. ... You can find the Pac-10 baseball standings here.
• With most of the WSU coaches in the Tri-Cities playing golf Monday, there was little opportunity to shed light on offseason happenings. I can confirm the loss of defensive tackle Josh Luapo to academics as his failure to keep in good standing will cost him his senior year. Injured in the USC game last season, Luapo struggled academically after that and is now ineligible. ... As per usual each year, there are a couple of players that are on the bubble, needing to fulfill requirements over the summer to stay eligible. There have been a lot of names bandied around the web this spring and, other than Luapo, most of those mentioned fall into the need-a-good-summer category. No else has been ruled out yet. ... Basketball player James Watson is also in that category, coach Ken Bone told Jim Moore this week. ... The WSU weight room is in the middle of its renovations, with the weight equipment moved out of the way so new flooring could be put down. When the remodel is done, there will be more equipment, more stations and the ability to move more athletes through without any expansion of space. ... When the WSU summer football camp is completed in late June, the WSU practice facility will be rebuilt as well. Not only will the artificial turf be replaced with the same turf that's on the floor of Martin Stadium, but a new storage building will be built near the Cub and the grass areas to the south and west will be covered with turf. ... Finally, former Cougar guard Xavier Thames has found a home. He's headed to San Diego State. You can read more here.
• That's it for tonight. We'll be out to cover the WSU baseball game at Gonzaga tomorrow night – weather permitting, however, as there is a 50 percent chance of showers all day. We'll also post if news warrants. Until then ...