There was a time in the 1980s and early ’90s when the Gonzaga-Washington State baseball rivalry was as intense, entertaining and meaningful as any in the Pacific Northwest.
The schools shared membership in the Pacific-10 Conference’s North Division and featured of colorful and highly animated coaches in GU’s Steve Hertz and WSU’s Bobo Brayton.
That rivalry lives on, and while the passing of time – along with Gonzaga’s decision to change leagues following the 1995 season – stripped it of much of its significance, the intensity and will to win remains.
“Obviously, it’s different now that we’re not in the same league,” GU coach Mark Machtolf said prior to Tuesday night’s latest renewal of the rivalry at Washington Trust Field, won by his Zags. “But I’ve always felt there is kind of an unspoken championship that goes along with playing all the teams in the Northwest, so it’s still a big game for us whenever we play them.”
Tuesday night’s game was the second of four the schools will play this spring. WSU coach Donnie Marbut, like Machtolf, attaches a certain amount of importance to every one.
“They’re all big games to me, because Gonzaga has a really good club, and we have a lot of respect for them,” he said. “I see a lot of teams playing soft midweek games, where four of ours are against Gonzaga. And that’s not my idea of soft.”
GU, which moved into the 22nd spot in this week’s Baseball America poll after taking two of three games from West Coast Conference rival and then 21st-ranked San Diego last week, is a game behind the Toreros and Loyola Marymount in the WCC standings.
WSU, fresh off an upset road win over then top-ranked Arizona State on Sunday, is in fifth place in the Pac-10 standings.
Both coaches are convinced the rivalry remains as relevant as it is convenient.
“Sometimes you want a game against a close, throw-away opponent, because you can win it,” Marbut said. “But in our case, our closest opponent is Gonzaga and they just happen to be really, really good, which helps us in the end.”
“It makes huge sense to play them, from an academic standpoint as well as a competitive one,” he said of the Cougars. “It’s just right down the highway, so your players don’t have to miss a lot of classroom time.”
Bucs look at long layoff
Whitworth’s non-conference home game against Lewis-Clark State was postponed Tuesday because of poor field conditions.
The Pirates (6-24 overall, 4-20 in the NWC) don’t play again until Tuesday, when they visit Central Washington.
West Coast Conference
Gonzaga 17, Washington State 6
Today: Columbia Basin vs. CCS at SFCC (DH), 1
Friday: Gonzaga at Porltand, 3 p.m.; Arizona at WSU, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: CCS at Treasure Valley CC (DH), noon; Gonzaga at Portland, 1 p.m.; Arizona at WSU, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Arizona at WSU, noon; Gonzaga at Portland, 1 p.m.
Monday: Arizona at Gonzaga, noon