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Hot Cougars strike again

Sun., May 24, 2009, midnight

Arnold, Conley handcuff Huskies

PULLMAN – Crash Davis would take issue with this Washington State University pitching staff.

Unlike the fictional catcher from “Bull Durham,” the Cougars don’t think there’s anything boring or fascist about strikeouts.

In Friday’s installment of their three-game Pac-10-ending baseball series with the University of Washington, two Cougars pitchers combined for 15. Saturday, as WSU clinched the series with a 7-1 win over the Huskies before 1,171 at Bailey-Brayton Field, Chad Arnold and Adam Conley teamed up for 14 more.

In the process, Washington State set a school single-season record. The Cougars’ 415 strikeouts are a big reason why they’re headed for college baseball’s version of “The Show,” next week’s NCAA tournament.

So how does WSU do it, despite a staff that doesn’t feature guys with Nuke LaLoosh’s heater?

“They do a great job keeping guys off-balance, mixing pitches,” said catcher Jay Ponciano, the redshirt sophomore who keyed WSU’s offense with three hits, including his third home run of the season.

“That’s one of our big things, try not to throw two of the same pitches in a row,” he said. He paused and added, “And then locating.”

WSU coach Donnie Marbut sees WSU’s success as a combination of pitching coach Gregg Swenson’s method and a staff that has the right attitude.

“Those guys buy into (Swenson’s) plan,” Marbut said after the Cougars had raised their overall mark to 30-23 and Pac-10 record to 18-8. “And then we’ve got the right personnel, guys who attack.

“They did today. Chad was good, he mixed his pitches, and Adam came in and attacked. When you throw the ball over the plate, good things will happen.”

Especially against the Huskies, who came into the weekend with 59 more K’s than any other Pac-10 team.

UW coach Ken Knutson pointed out the Huskies (25-29, 13-13) had been handicapped by injuries much of the year, limiting situational moves.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve got some swing-and-miss guys it seems like. Believe me, we work at it and we’ve tried to get it better. And it was better coming into this weekend and then today and yesterday, it was just poor.”

Arnold (7-3) punched out a career-high eight Huskies in his 52/3 innings of work.

Arnold got into trouble just once, loading the bases with one out in the fifth on a double and two walks. But a strikeout and groundout to first spiked the rally.

“You don’t want adversity, but I like when Chad gets put into adversity, because he keeps coming out of it,” Marbut said of the redshirt sophomore. “It just shows how much he’s matured and how tough he’s getting.”

Freshman left-hander Conley, who earned his first college save, added six more strikeouts in the final 31/3, including sending four UW hitters back to the dugout after called third strikes.

“Conley just spotted up on that inside black corner,” Ponciano said. “It’s nice when the ump’s giving you that pitch and he certainly was.”

Arnold and Conley were so dominant that if sophomore first baseman Troy Scott’s three hits – including a shutout-busting, 400-foot home run to center with two outs in the ninth – were tossed out, the two would have combined for a no-hitter.

Ponciano matched Scott’s offensive output, marking the first time this year he’s collected more than two hits in a game. He’s had two hits in 10 of his past 13 games, raising his average to .372.

The Cougars had an 11-hit attack that started with Jared Prince’s solo home run in the second – keying a three-run rally – continuing through Ponciano’s and Matt Argyropoulos’ fourth-inning solo homers and culminating in Ponciano’s two-run single in the fifth.

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