Zags, Cougs eager to play baseball

FRIDAY, JAN. 29, 2010

Unlike the past two years, the weather is cooperating as the Inland Northwest’s college baseball teams begin preparations for the 2010 season.

“Hopefully it will continue, knock on wood,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf, whose Bulldogs officially begin defense of their West Coast Conference title with their first practice Tuesday.

“If we can get outside immediately when we start practice that will be huge,” said Machtolf, starting his seventh season as GU head coach. “We weren’t able to do that last year. … If we continue to get a break, that will really benefit us.”

The area’s other Division I program, Washington State University, opens practice in Pullman today. Like Gonzaga, WSU is also coming off an NCAA tournament appearance.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for all season,” said shortstop Shea Vucinich, a captain and a two-year starter who played at Coeur d’Alene High. “Fall ball is one thing, but to get going for the spring season is pretty special.”

Coach Donny Marbut’s Cougars lost just three position starters and one starting pitcher off last season’s 32-25 group that was also 19-8 and second in the Pac-10, two games behind Arizona State.

“We did some things last year,” Vucinich said, “but not everything, in respect to the whole standings thing in the Pac-10. That’s kind of motivating to us.”

Gonzaga, 36-18 overall in 2009, returns just three everyday players, putting even more emphasis on the preseason.

“They are crucial,” Machtolf said of the next three weeks. “Even with an older team last year, winning the championship, there were some rocky roads.

“You’ve got to learn to battle through those, even a little more so when you have more inexperience.”

The Bulldogs’ first game is Feb. 19 in Tucson, Ariz., against Missouri in the Cactus Classic.

Washington State will open in Pullman the next day, hosting Seattle University.

Whitworth, under second-year coach Dan Ramsay, is already preparing for a Feb. 6 opener at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

The Pirates were 10-26 last year, 8-20 in Northwest Conference play.

Community College of Spokane’s first game is March 6. The Sasquatch were 20-18 last season in coach Bobby Lee’s first year.

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