Vucinich’s glove rescues Cougars
PULLMAN – In the college baseball hierarchy, the weekend series, whether they be league games or not, are the glamour contests. The mid-week games? They’re usually a place to test depth, especially among the pitching staffs.
But the mid-week games between Gonzaga and Washington State universities aren’t like that. With Inland Northwest bragging rights on the line, “it’s always a hard-fought game,” according to WSU coach Donnie Marbut.
The first of four scheduled this season, Tuesday night at Bailey-Brayton Field before 853, was typical for the atypical series.
Washington State won 7-5, in large part because it was able to limit a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth to two runs thanks to a stellar defensive play by shortstop Shea Vucinich.
And the Cougars rallied from a one-run deficit by scoring its final three runs on a sacrifice fly, a ground out and an opposite-field double to right.
The Zags, losers of five consecutive games and 8-12 this season, drew first-inning blood on 6-foot-6 designated hitter Andy Hunter’s towering two-run home run, his sixth of the season.
Before WSU first-time starter Travis Cook could get out of the inning, they added another on a two-base error and Clayton Eslick’s double to the center-field fence.
That lead didn’t last, though, as WSU (12-5) rallied in the second against former University High left-hander Tyler Olson.
Vucinich walked, Brady Steiger singled and both scored on Matt Argyropoulos’ double to center. Jay Ponciano moved Argyropoulos to third with a two-strike ground out to first, allowing the third baseman to tie the score on a wild pitch. An error, stolen base and Brett Jacobs single to right-center put the Cougs up 4-3 an out later.
Cook, a freshman who missed the early part of the year with a collapsed lung, went three and then gave way to Paris Shewey, who brought a 2.12 ERA out of the pen.
But he couldn’t find the plate, throwing 12 balls in 13 pitches.
“He’s been great this year,” Marbut said. “Shoot, he threw 11 straight balls. I’ve seen him throw three innings and not throw 11 balls.”
Connor Lambert (1-0) relieved, gave up a two-run single to Chris Sturdivant, got an out, and then reloaded the bases with a walk.
Eslick pounded a ball up the middle, Vucinich, from Coeur d’Alene, dove to his left, came up with the ball and flipped it to Cody Bart- lett who made the turn. WSU had kept it close.
“That’s at least a two-run swing, maybe,” said GU coach Mark Machtolf, “and then we’ve got first and third and one out. It was huge.”
More than he knew.
“I didn’t see the ball until it got about to second base,” Vucinich said, “because it was kind of hidden by the runner and once I moved to my left, it got hidden by the umpire, so I was kind of late on the dive.”
“We’ve played a lot of people this year (and) he’s the best shortstop I’ve seen,” Marbut said. “In that situation, we needed something big. They had a chance for a big inning and he got us out of that.”
With Lambert, Seth Harvey and Adam Conley able to shut out GU the rest of the way, all the Cougars had to do was scratch out a couple runs.
They did. The first came on Derek Jones’ fourth-inning sacrifice fly, tying the game at 5. The eventual game-winner scored in the fifth when Ponciano, who was 0-4 but had a hand in three runs, drove in Vucinich with a ground out. Bart- lett sliced a double to right on the next pitch to score Steiger.
Lewis-Clark State 15, Whitworth 2: The Warriors led 1-0 going into the bottom of the fifth, then exploded for 14 runs in three innings for the non-conference win in Lewiston. Former Mead High star Connor Moore came off the bench to belt a two-run home run in the seventh and drive in three for L-C State (19-2). Six Warrior pitchers combined to limit Whitworth (6-14) to four hits.