April 8, 2011 in Sports

Roundup: Zags hope strong play continues into WCC season

Vince Grippi, Vinceg@Spokesman.Com

The preconference schedule has been productive for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

In their 26 games, GU has won 16, including 11 of its last 14, swept national power UC Irvine at home and earned a national ranking – 24th in this week’s Collegiate Baseball magazine poll.

But that was then. Today the Bulldogs (16-9-1) kick off West Coast Conference play by hosting perennial conference power San Diego in the first of a three-game weekend series.

“You have to get off to a hot start, because there are only 21 conference games,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said of the WCC race. “It’s basically just a sprint.”

The Zags’ recent run of good play has been built on pitching and defense, Machtolf said.

The starter for Friday games – the ace of a college staff – Ryan Carpenter is 3-1 with a 3.16 earned-run average. Tyler Olson, the University High product who starts on Saturdays, is 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA. And freshman Marco Gonzales is 4-2 with a 2.76 ERA on Sundays, including three consecutive complete games. All are left-handers.

At the end of games is Cody Martin, who has a 0.89 ERA and five saves in 11 appearances. The senior right-hander has 20 career saves despite being in the starting rotation last season.

“We’ve been getting good starts on the weekend, which have allowed us to get to Cody if we need him,” Machtolf said. “Carpenter has been pretty good on Friday and then Tyler and Marco on Saturday and Sunday have pitched outstanding.

“You can’t ask for anything more than that. We’ve got to continue to do that, (but) I don’t know if you can expect that for the entire year. We’re going to have to some guys step up and pitch well out of our bullpen.”

All of this is backed up by a defense Machtolf feels has shined on the weekends.

The Zags’ only losses the past two weeks have come in midweek games against Washington State.

Olson’s mound work has been matched by former high school teammate Billy Moon’s work in the batter’s box. The sophomore, playing most of the time in left field, is leading the Zags with a .400 average and 20 runs batted in.

Moon, Olson and the rest of the Bulldogs begin the 21-game WCC schedule with the Toreros, usually one of the conference’s better teams, who enter the weekend 7-19 overall.

“You look at their record and you might think they aren’t very good,” Machtolf said.

“But they’re plenty talented and they get one of their big arms back (from injury) this weekend, so if you’re dumb enough to look past San Diego you’re dumb enough to lose.”

Around the area

The early Pac-10 season has been a killer for Washington State (12-12) and its postseason hopes. The Cougars opened conference with three consecutive road losses at California, then came home last weekend to face Stanford. After one big inning gave WSU a 10-8 come-from-behind victory Friday, the Cougars were blown out 22-3 on Saturday and lost a tough 4-3 decision Sunday. That left them 1-5 in Pac-10 play. “I thought we just lacked urgency,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said of Sunday’s defeat. “I just thought we were going to come out with that fighting mentality that I think our program has kind of been built on. … I didn’t see that and it cost us a ballgame and cost us a series.” The Cougars will host last year’s national runner-up, UCLA, and its touted starting staff this weekend. “They have some pitchers everybody seems to know about,” Marbut said. WSU will make one change in the rotation, with Marbut moving last year’s ace, Chad Arnold, into the Saturday slot. Arnold, who is coming off elbow problems that cost him the early part of the season, is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, although he gave up just one run in his 77-pitch outing last Sunday. … The Whitworth Pirates, at .500 in Northwest Conference play, get a chance to move up the standings this weekend when they host Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes (12-11, 7-5) are a game ahead of the Pirates (12-15, 6-6). Whitworth took two of three from third-place George Fox last weekend behind the hot bat of Landon Scott (7 of 11 with three walks), an eight-run inning on Sunday and strong relief work from Nathan Johnson on Saturday and Kramer Kembel on Sunday. … Community College of Spokane got back on track Wednesday afternoon with an NWAACC road sweep of Big Bend. The Sasquatch (12-10, 2-4) have three players hitting better than .350 in sophomores Taylor Hustad (.353 with 12 RBIs), Beau Dahmen (.353) and Quinn Holt (.352 with 10 doubles and 13 RBIs). Sophomore right-hander Stinson Ott suffered his first defeat last weekend but is 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA.

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