Washington State’s baseball team is done playing in Pullman, but the Cougars still have four home games left on the schedule.
Yes, it’s time for their annual trip to Pasco, where this year the Cougars will host a three-game series against rival Washington, followed by a Monday game against West Coast Conference opponent Portland.
Last season, WSU played only one game in Pasco, and it was against Portland. In 2011, the Cougars played just one game there, too, and it was against Washington.
The logic behind moving an entire three-game series to the Tri-Cities is simple, coach Donnie Marbut said.
“School’s out, so the population and crowd here dwindles, obviously, because of the students and whatnot,” Marbut said. “In the two years we went to the Tri-Cities, we’ve never done a weekend series.”
Marbut said a four-day crowd of more than 10,000 is anticipated, noting that in 2011, the game sold out and 400 people were turned away at the gate.
“Great weather in a great Cougar town with great fans,” Marbut said. “You never like leaving Pullman, and if you do it it’s got to be a special place. I think the Tri-Cities is a special place.”
The attendance boost could be a welcome sight for a WSU team that has struggled to an 8-16 conference record and will miss out on postseason play for the third consecutive season.
The Cougars have won only one conference series this season – their first one against Arizona State – and have lost 14 of their last 17 games.
WSU (21-27) must win its final seven games – four this weekend, then a three-game series at Oregon State to end the year – to avoid its third consecutive nonwinning season. The Cougars finished 28-28 last season and 26-28 in 2011 after qualifying for postseason play in 2009 and 2010.
It’s been a trying season for Marbut and the Cougars, who have lacked consistency and haven’t played well enough defensively to support their all-sophomore starting pitching rotation.
“We’ve lost so many tight games,” Marbut said. “We’re not playing for an NCAA playoff berth. This team’s playing to get better and keep developing, because this team’s going to be back next year. Nothing’s really gone their way in quite a while.”
He’s right that they’ll be back. WSU’s roster lists only two seniors, and fourth-year junior Adam Nelubowich, who will likely be drafted and play professionally, could be the Cougars’ only everyday player who leaves the program.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have never played before, so that’s always a step forward for those guys, and there are guys that have plateaued a little bit,” Marbut said. “I feel like the lessons we learned this year will really be valuable for 2014.”
WSU’s top hitter this season, third baseman Nick Tanielu, should return in time for next season after undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Marbut estimated his rehabilitation time at six months. Tanielu batted .409 in 32 games.
The Bulldogs did nothing to improve their NCAA tournament resume heading into next week’s WCC championships. Gonzaga dropped two games at No. 10 Oregon earlier this week, and its already poor RPI of 93 figures to worsen when the new figures are released on Tuesday. One more game remains for Gonzaga in the regular season – a Monday matchup at Cal. With an at-large bid seemingly out of the picture, the Bulldogs, who won the WCC’s regular-season championship, must now win the four-team WCC tournament to receive a bid into the NCAA postseason. Their opponent on May 23 in Stockton, Calif., has yet to be determined, though San Diego and San Francisco have clinched spots in the field.