PULLMAN – Chad Arnold has no regrets. Yet he regrets plenty.
The former is personal. The latter is about this Washington State University baseball season, the home portion of which ends this weekend with a three-game Pac-10 series against Oregon, starting tonight.
Funny, to most it would seem Arnold’s past 12 months are the things second-guesses are made of.
WSU’s fifth-year senior pitcher – he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow after his senior year at Kennewick’s Southridge High and redshirted as a freshman – had a breakout junior season, posting a 5-3 record and a 3.74 earned run average as the Cougars’ ace, the guy who went out every Friday night and faced off with the opponent’s best.
His success and that of the Cougars, who made the NCAA tourney for the second consecutive year, raised his profile nationally and led to the right-hander being selected in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Everyone expected Arnold to take the money and run.
“The coaches were behind me, rooting for me, whatever you want to call it,” Arnold said Thursday, sitting in an overstuffed couch in coach Donnie Marbut’s Bailey-Brayton Field office. “Donnie was like, ‘You know what, sign.’ There was no, ‘You should stay,’ or anything like that.”
But the Dodgers, hampered by an ongoing ownership uncertainty, low-balled Arnold, treating him as if he didn’t have another option. He did.
He said no to their offer. After all, he needed just 18 credits to earn his degree – he did that, getting his social studies diploma this month – and he prepared for what should have been a stellar last season in Pullman. And then he could start a professional career.
“That’s the thing about this game, it can change that quick,” Arnold said. “I’m coming off a great season last year. I’m on pace to start the season at 100 pitches. Things were great. The feel was great.
“It was going to be another year when I took another step.”
Turns out, it was a step back. Late in the fall, Arnold’s right elbow started to bother him. Turns out he had small fracture in the area repaired by the earlier surgery. A new cut wasn’t needed, just rest to allow the bone to knit back together.
Arnold didn’t appear in a game until March 16, five weeks into the season.
Since then, neither he nor the Cougars have reached expectations. After posting a 2-4 record with a 6.75 ERA in nine starts and 44 innings, Arnold’s right arm has betrayed him once more. He’s felt some tingling in his hand, so he’s been shut down – a tough ending to a tough year. But ask Arnold about it and his first response isn’t about himself. It’s about the 22-25 Cougars.
“The expectations we had were high, just with the squad we had coming back and the incoming freshmen,” he said. “You immediately thought, ‘This is going to be a great year.’
“We had three fifth-year seniors coming back in myself, Cody Bartlett and Jay (Ponciano). … Immediately your expectations are, ‘This is going to be the best team.’”
After this weekend’s series, WSU (6-15 in the Pac-10) will face Washington in a nonconference game in Pasco Tuesday before heading to Los Angeles and a regular season-ending three-game series at USC. Unlike the past two years, there probably won’t be any postseason.
But if there is anything his Washington State experience – he will leave third in all-time starts with 53 and in the top 10 in strikeouts and innings pitched – has taught the 6-foot-4 Arnold, it is how to deal with adversity.
“It didn’t hinder me mentally as it would have in the past,” he said of his preseason injury. “I was definitely a lot more positive about it than I was when I had the Tommy John (surgery). I thought baseball was over for me.”
Zags take aim at title
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are in first place in the West Coast Conference. Or they are in second.
It just depends on which measure you want to use. The Zags (29-16-1 overall) are 12-3 in WCC play, a .800 winning percentage. The University of San Francisco (28-22 overall) is 14-4, a .778 winning percentage.
So GU is either percentage points ahead or one-half game back going into this weekend, in which Gonzaga will face Pepperdine (20-28, 5-10) in a three-game road series while USF rests.
No matter what happens in Malibu, the Zags know the WCC’s NCAA tournament berth will be on the line next weekend, when USF travels to Spokane for a three-game set.
“It’s been coming down to between San Francisco and us for a little while,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said Thursday while en route to Southern California after being shut out in back-to-back nonconference games at Oregon this week. “They’re focused for this weekend. We’re trying to keep them more in the status quo, not doing anything different then they’ve been doing all year.
“You can’t get overly hyped. They know what they’re playing for, but in the same token you have to keep doing what you’ve been doing that got you this far.”
If the Bulldogs sweep this weekend – something USF pulled off against the Waves last weekend – then they will have a one-game lead. If they lose all three, they would be two games back.
But even under the worst-case scenario, the WCC berth will still come down to who wins next weekend’s series in Spokane, as the conference tiebreaker is head to head.
“It doesn’t matter if we go into that last series up one, down one or tied, you’ve just got to win that series,” Machtolf said.
Sasquatch reach end
Community Colleges of Spokane ended its season last Saturday, shut out in both ends of a doubleheader by Columbia Basin College. The Sasquatch finished 20-24 overall, 10-18 in NWAACC play.
Among those with at least 100 at-bats, freshman Brendan Herzer (Lakeside High) led CCS with a .308 average. Travis Cooper, a sophomore from Pullman, had 25 RBIs. Freshman Austin Weber (Ferris) posted a 1.53 earned run average in 13 games. Sophomore Stinson Ott paced CCS with five wins.