Washington State and Gonzaga open the home portion of their Pacific-10 Conference baseball seasons this afternoon in familiar places, but with unfamiliar expectations.
WSU, which has won or shared the Northern Division title in 19 of the last 25 seasons, hopes to rebound from last year’s fifth-place finish - its worst since 1969 - under new coach Steve Farrington.
The Cougars (10-15), who entertain Portland in a Bailey Field doubleheader that starts at noon, have been picked by league coaches to finish fourth.
That’s quite a change from the days when Bobo Brayton, who retired following the 1994 season, had WSU among the nation’s elite programs.
But it doesn’t bother Farrington, who is coming in with no preconceived notions about the Pac-10, where the powerhouse teams reside, or where his team fits in.
“I haven’t seen anybody in the league play yet, except Portland,” Farrington said Friday night. “I’m just excited for our bunch. It’s great to be back home. We haven’t seen this yard in a while.”
Farrington said his Cougars, who won two out of three from Portland on the road earlier this week, need to force the issue if they hope to prove the experts wrong. There will be no more standing on the bases and waiting for senior Mike Kinkade, last year’s Player of the Year in the Pac-10 North, to hit a homer.
“We’re a speed team; we’ve got to make things happened,” he explained. “We made a lot of things happen down there (at Portland) that were maybe a little bit different than they were ready for.”
Gonzaga, meanwhile, has been picked to finish second to last year’s runner-up Washington, which landed an NCAA atlarge berth and came within a game of making it to the College World Series.
That’s a bit of a twist for coach Steve Hertz, whose team has finished higher than fourth on only two occasions since joining the league in 1982.
The Zags (13-11) face defending champion Oregon State today in a noon doubleheader at Pecarovich Field. They dropped two out of three to the Beavers on the road earlier in the week.
But Hertz has a load of veteran talent returning from a team that was explosive, but inconsistent, last spring. Junior first baseman Jerrod Wong is one of the league’s toughest outs and his older brother, Corey, is one of Hertz’s aces.