PULLMAN – Michael Weber’s two-out, bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 10th inning forced home Jay Ponciano and gave Washington State University a 6-5 Pac-10 baseball win over the University of Washington on Friday night.
But it also gave the Cougars much more.
With the win and UCLA’s 4-0 loss at Arizona State, WSU (29-23, 17-8 Pac-10) clinched second place in the conference and in all likelihood assured the Cougars of their first NCAA tournament berth since 1990.
“It’s a great feeling,” said WSU senior left-hander Matt Way, who bedeviled the Huskies for seven shutout innings before faltering in the eighth. “We locked up second place right there. … That’s all we were trying to do, make sure we got that win.”
Way did his part, striking out a career-high 13 and limiting UW to four hits, the first Doug Cherry’s two-out single in the sixth.
“The best he’s ever been,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said. “Big game for us to clinch second place in this conference. We always talk about showing up. Matty Way showed up.”
Though the Cougars bats didn’t early, especially when they had runners in scoring position against UW starter Jason Erickson.
Still, thanks to Weber’s second-inning single to right, which scored Greg Lagreid when Kyle Conley lobbed the ball to second base, and his fifth-inning RBI triple to right-center – the junior third baseman from Seattle’s O’Dea High missed a home run by about a foot – the Cougars led 2-0 going to the eighth.
Way got a quick out then yielded a single to Caleb Brown. Trying to find something, UW coach Ken Knutson decided to send up back-to-back pinch hitters.
“I asked them to go up there and swing at the first pitch,” Knutson said. “The first 27 batters we had couldn’t do that for some reason; only five of them did.”
And his pinch hitters did. Jacob Clem, hitting .167, doubled to right field. So did Andy Bethel, with the same result, a double to right, tying the score at 2 – and knocking Way from the game.
Jeremy Johnson, who leads WSU with nine saves, came out of the bullpen, quickly got an out, then lost command for two hitters. The junior right-hander hit the first one, Pierce Rankin, then left a fastball out over the plate to the second, left-fielder Jake Rife, and he pulled it into the right-field corner for a two-run triple.
The Huskies (25-28, 13-12), needing a win to stay eligible for the postseason, turned the 4-2 lead over to Andrew Kittredge.
The freshman from Spokane’s Ferris High, who picked up a save last week in Arizona, didn’t get an out, though third baseman Aaron Russell’s inning-opening throwing error didn’t help the Huskies’ reliever.
By the time Brian Pearl (1-5) could stop the bleeding, WSU had scored three times, taking the lead 5-4 when Gary Kuykendall scored on a wild pitch with Weber at the plate.
Needing three outs, Johnson (6-1) got one before Troy Scott walked on a 3-2 pitch that Marbut thought was a strike. A strikeout and walk later, Bethel delivered a game-tying single to left-center.
Marbut, still arguing the Scott walk, was tossed by home-plate umpire Dave Perez.
“To me it was strike three,” said Marbut, ejected for the third time this year. “I saw that pitch called a lot today. But you know, he called it a ball, that’s just the way it goes.”
Standing on a hill well back of the stadium, Marbut was unable to see the winning rally. It started with a Ponciano one-out single off Pearl, in his third inning. Derek Jones walked and, out later, Jared Prince was hit with a 2-2 pitch.
Weber stepped up, saw five pitches from Pearl, the last one high and outside, and walked to first.
“You’re always thinking of hitting that grand slam, game-winner, but you take what you take,” Weber said. “He’s not throwing strikes, don’t swing at them.
“It’s huge, locking up second place in the Pac-10. The coaches told us all along we needed one here. But obviously, we’re not going to settle for just one. We want to storm (into the NCAAs) with a nice sweep over the rival Huskies.”
WSU 6, Washington 5 (10)
Erickson, Brown (6), Haehl (6), Kittredge (8), Pearl (8) and Wilcox, McGuire (8), Ryckman (10); Way, Johnson (8) and Lagreid. W—Johnson (6-1). L—Pearl (1-5).
HITS: Washington—Cherry, Rife, Brown, Clem, Bethel 2. WSU—Kuykendall 3, Ponciano 2, Lagreid, Prince, Weber 2, Bartlett. 2B—Clem, Bethel, Kuykendall, Lagreid, Prince, Bartlett. 3B—Rife, Weber.