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Ranking gives GU baseball team degree of affirmation

There’s too much work to do for the Gonzaga baseball team to get too wrapped up in the rankings, says Mark Machtolf, the Bulldogs’ coach.

Still, the fact that Baseball America ranked Gonzaga in its Top 25 this week for the first time since the 2011 season – the Bulldogs check in at No. 21 – has to supply at least some affirmation that they are viewed as a challenger in the West Coast Conference.

They’re off to a 15-9-1 start, and took two out of three games from each of their first two conference opponents (though they lost a series-opening game at Loyola Marymount on Thursday), including San Diego, the team picked by conference coaches to win the WCC championship this season.

Machtolf described Gonzaga’s nonconference play as “erratic,” citing the team’s reliance on younger players as the biggest reason for any inconsistency.

“I think as they get more comfortable and get into the season a little bit, they’ll start feeling a little more comfortable and start feeling a little more consistent,” Machtolf said.

The Bulldogs have to win a little differently than they did last year. Gone is outfielder Royce Bolinger – a .392 hitter last season who also slapped 11 home runs – and so Gonzaga is lacking in the power department, totaling just three home runs through 25 games.

That means more small ball, an approach supported by Gonzaga’s strong starting pitching. Preseason All-America selection Marco Gonzales dropped to 4-2 on Thursday but still boasts an ERA of 2.65, and senior Tyler Olson has thrown two complete games while compiling a 4-1 record with a 2.32 ERA.

“Tyler’s been huge, and he was last year too,” Machtolf said. “He pitched on Fridays last year and obviously Marco gets a lot of the attention – deservedly so – but Tyler has been outstanding in his own right, and has given us a great matchup on Saturday. So those two guys have been a great 1-2.”

Prior to the third game of what could be a crucial series for the Washington State baseball team against No. 23 Stanford this weekend, the Cougars will retire the number of one of the best players in school history.

John Olerud, who pitched and batted so well during his WSU career that there is now an award named after him, will be honored in a pregame ceremony before the Cougars’ noon game Saturday against the Cardinal.

“Cougar baseball has a long history of success and lots of great players have come through this program. There has been no greater player than John Olerud to come through this program,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said earlier this week. “This guy had the greatest single season in the history of college baseball.”

That season was 1988, when Olerud posted a 15-0 record as a pitcher while batting .464 with 23 home runs. He played first base for the Seattle Mariners from 2000-2004, well after winning the 1993 A.L. batting title while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Marbut asked any and all fans in Whitman County to attend Saturday’s game to see Olerud, though the baseball is important enough on its own. WSU (15-9, 2-2 Pac-12) has already taken a series from perennial power Arizona State, and can bolster its potential tourney profile by winning at least two against Stanford this week.

Stanford took the first game of the series Thursday, winning 3-0 behind a complete-game shutout from pitcher Mark Appel, who is considered the potential No. 1 pick in the MLB draft. WSU starter Joe Pistorese also pitched a complete game.

Whitworth hopes to snap a four-game losing streak when it begins a three-game series at George Fox today. Whitworth (9-12-1, 4-5 Northwest Conference) was swept by Linfield at home last week.