Cougars, Bulldogs open baseball season

PULLMAN – The names and numbers – some of them record-setting – have changed for Washington State’s starting lineup this season.

Gone is all-time home run leader Derek Jones. So, too, is Taylor Ard – who led the Cougars with a .577 slugging percentage and 12 home runs last season – along with the rest of WSU’s top five hitters last year.

But WSU baseball coach Donnie Marbut expects better balance and just as much production from the new guys, along with returners like center fielder Jason Monda – a third-team preseason All-American selection by Baseball America – and sophomore infielder Ian Sagdal, who started 50 games last season.

The Cougars’ pitching staff is a different story. Six pitchers recorded a start for WSU last season. Each of them returns this year. And despite the fact that each of the Cougars’ probable starters this weekend in a season-opening series at Western Carolina is a sophomore – Tanner Chleborad, Joe Pistorese and Scott Simon – they don’t lack for experience.

The trio combined for 26 starts last season – 25 of them by Chleborad and Pistorese, though Simon made 27 relief appearances – and Pistorese led the team with a 2.44 ERA in 661/3 innings.

“Obviously, all three guys pitched in the rotation on their respective summer teams, too,” Marbut said. “We’re definitely excited about the rotation. They’re still only sophomores, but they’re experienced and we think they’re doing really good things.”

WSU will rely on a lineup that is less experienced – though not necessarily youthful – to supplement its still-growing pitching staff. Monda, who batted .275 last season, is the team’s top returning hitter, and the Cougars also return both of their catchers, sophomore P.J. Jones and junior Collin Slaybaugh.

And Marbut says he expects WSU to start four players who redshirted last season.

Trace Tam Sing, who was limited to six games a year ago and received a medical hardship waiver, is expected to be the team’s starting shortstop.

Ben Roberts, a redshirt freshman outfielder, should also start today against Western Carolina, as well as redshirt freshman Nick Tanielu, whom Marbut likes at third base. And redshirt junior first baseman Brett Jacobs, who sat out last year with an injury, could also start if a foot ailment clears up in time.

“I like the guys we’re putting in there,” Marbut said. “They’re different types of guys, but I think 1-through-9, our offense will be more balanced. I think we’ll steal as many bases and I think we’ll hit as many home runs. We’ll just do it with more guys than the two (Jones and Ard) that we had.”

The Cougars finished 28-28 last season and 12-18 in Pac-12 play. A preseason coaches’ poll picked the Cougars to finish eighth in the conference this season.

WSU’s last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2009.

Gonzaga in Palm Springs

Gonzaga begins its season with a doubleheader today against Utah Valley and UC Riverside in Palm Springs, Calif., at a three-day tournament hosted by Oregon State.

The Bulldogs, who were picked to finish third in the West Coast Conference by the league’s coaches, return one of the nation’s top players in junior pitcher/infielder Marco Gonzales.

Gonzales returned from injury last season to finish 8-2 with a 1.55 ERA, winning the conference’s Pitcher of the Year award while also batting .325. He’s a member of the 50-player preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award and is a preseason All-American.

Gonzaga appeared primed for an NCAA tournament appearance last season before losing 13 of its final 21 games and finishing third in the WCC.

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