As Derek Jones jogged in from third base in the bottom of the ninth last Sunday, carrying Washington State’s third run – and quite possibly the season – with him, his thoughts were simple.
“It was just ‘thank goodness,’ ” WSU’s junior right fielder said this week. “We all had the belief, we just hadn’t been putting the product on the field yet.”
The Cougars have appeared in the NCAA baseball tournament the past two years. They’ve finished second and third in the Pac-10. They won 69 games in that span.
And, going into the bottom of the ninth last Sunday against UCLA, they were three outs away from dropping to 1-8 in the conference.
“That just would have been a killer for the season,” said Jones, who has hit 29 home runs in his Cougars career.
Instead, WSU rallied. After being held to one hit through eight innings, the Cougars collected five in the ninth, scored three times – including Jones’ winner courtesy of a Jason Monda RBI single – and won 3-2.
Still, following Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Gonzaga, Washington State is 14-14, 2-7 in conference going into this weekend’s series at 10th-ranked Arizona State. That doesn’t faze Jones a bit.
“We are a game behind what we were last year (at this time),” he said.
The Cougars were 3-6 last year, won 12 of their next 18 conference games, finished 37-22 overall and ended up missing the Super Regionals by a game.
“It’s huge to have that kind of reference point,” Jones said. “We can still do this. It doesn’t matter.”
If anything, the Pac-10’s depth – eight teams made the 64-team NCAA tournament last season – works in WSU’s favor, despite the week-in, week-out challenge. And so does another reference point.
“The identity we hold as a Donnie Marbut-coached club is that we are never out of (a game),” Jones said. “We’re a scrappy bunch of guys. But this year, I don’t know, for some reason or other, it just hasn’t been happening. Until the last few Pac-10 games.”
The numbers bolster WSU’s reputation. In 2009, the Cougars rallied to win 17 times. In 2010, 20, the most in Marbut’s seven-year tenure. This season they’ve done it seven times including in both of their Pac-10 wins.
Thirteen times in the past three years WSU has won in its last at-bat.
“We feel if you go up there with the mentality you’re going to get it done, you’ve got a better chance to get it done,” Jones said.
Getting it done this weekend will mean beating the Sun Devils (22-9, 5-4) on their field, something that doesn’t happen much. But following next weekend’s trip to 15th-ranked Oregon State, WSU will finish the season with three of its final four Pac-10 series at home.
“We feel like we can compete with these clubs that are ranked, even though we don’t have a little number by our name,” Jones said. “We’re not intimidated by it.”
Around the area
Gonzaga followed a familiar formula last weekend in sweeping defending West Coast Conference champion San Diego. The Zags (19-10-1, 3-0 in WCC play and ranked 24th by Collegiate Baseball) rode their starting pitching and timely hitting to the sweep. … Tyler Olson turned in the Zags’ best pitching performance of the weekend as the junior left-hander won his fifth consecutive game with a 7 2/3-innings performance. Olson (5-1) struck out six and allowed just an unearned run. … GU senior catcher Cameron Edman was the WCC’s co-player of the week after going 7 for 15 with a couple of doubles, a home run and four RBIs against USD. … GU closer Cody Martin was named to Baseball America’s midseason All-American team. The senior has an 0.83 ERA and six saves, picking up his sixth in last Saturday’s 3-1 win. … The Zags travel to Los Angeles for a three-game, first-place showdown with Loyola Marymount starting today. The Lions swept San Francisco last week. … After a masterful 1-0 nonconference home win over Lewis-Clark State on Tuesday, Whitworth (15-16, 8-7 and tied for fifth in the Northwest Conference) travels to Forest Grove, Ore., this week to face second-place Pacific. Nathan Johnson blanked the Warriors on five hits, taking only 1 hour, 40 minutes in the win. Landon Scott, who has raised his average to .402, supplied all the offense with his fourth-inning, solo home run. The win raised Johnson’s record to 4-3 and lowered his ERA to 4.02. … Community Colleges of Spokane (13-13 overall, 3-7 in NWAACC play) dropped three of four in the past week. The Sasquatch have a chance to get healthy Saturday when Wenatchee Valley (2-15, 1-9) visits SFCC for a 1 p.m. doubleheader.