Rugged baseball schedules pay off now

Gonzaga University’s Mark Machtolf and Washington State’s Donnie Marbut both had reasons for concern when their teams’ college baseball schedules were finalized over the winter – especially with the way their league seasons were to play out.

Machtolf’s Bulldogs were looking at playing four of their first five three-game series against West Coast Conference foes on the road. Marbut’s Cougars were facing a similar challenge, having to go on the road to play three of their first five series against Pacific-10 Conference opponents.

Both head coaches made it a point to keep their teams focused on each game at hand, no matter where it was being played.

The strategy seems to have worked. Both Gonzaga (28-17, 10-5 WCC) and WSU (21-18, 10-5 Pac-10) find themselves in strong positions in their respective league title races – and staring at remarkably favorable late-season schedules, as well.

GU is tied with 28th-ranked San Diego (27-17, 10-5) atop the WCC standings and a game ahead of third-place Loyola Marymount (25-21, 9-6). The Bulldogs play their final six conference games at home, where they will open another crucial three-game series against Saint Mary’s on Friday, before wrapping up league and regular-season play with a three-game homestand against LMU on May 15-17.

WSU sits in second place in the Pac-10, 31/2 games behind Arizona State (31-9, 15-3) but a half-game clear of UCLA (19-21, 11-7). The Cougars play three of their final four Pac-10 series – including this weekend’s three-game set against Stanford – at home.

The Cougs will make their only remaining Pac-10 road trip to Oregon State (May 15-17) before returning home to close conference and regular-season play against Washington on May 22-24.

“It was kind of an unfortunate thing that we had to play four of our first five (WCC series) on the road,” Machtolf said. “But the bottom line is, you have to play really well, whether you’re at home or on the road, because everybody in this league is so good.”

Marbut feels much the same way about the competition in the Pac-10.

“I don’t think you ever feel happy about where you’re at, because we’ve still got such a long way to go and because the league we play in is such a difficult league,” he said. “But if you had your pick, you’d rather play more at home than on the road, so we need to be thankful for that and try to make the most of it.”

WSU is 13-3 at home this year, while Gonzaga is 12-4.

“We’ve tended to play well at home this year, which is a good thing,” Marbut said. “But the best thing is, we don’t have to get on another plane the rest of the year.”

He said the Cougars will bus to Corvallis, Ore., to play Oregon State.

More weather woes

Tuesday night’s non-conference game between Washington State and Gonzaga that was scheduled to be played at GU was postponed until May 19 because of inclement weather. Tonight’s game between the same two schools that was scheduled to be played in Pullman has been canceled.

Crazy times in the NWAACC

The NWAACC continues trying – without much luck so far – to sort out the four teams that will qualify for its East Region playoff.

The only lock at this point is league-leading Columbia Basin (16-4), which holds a six-game lead with just four games left to play. The next three playoff spots – the other seven teams in the league are separated by only two games – probably won’t be decided until the final weekend of the season.

Walla Walla and Wenatchee Valley are tied for second place in the standings with 10-10 records, while four other teams – Community Colleges of Spokane, Big Bend, Blue Mountain and Yakima Valley – are tied for fourth at 9-11.

Even cellar-dwelling Treasure Valley, with its 8-12 league record, remains in the playoff chase.

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