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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars get an early start to baseball season

PULLMAN – Between the piles of snow heaped onto the warning track, Washington State University took the field for its first baseball practice of 2005 on Wednesday.

The sight was a bit odd, but the vision presented by first-year head coach Don Marbut was clear: His Cougars are going to play and play hard, regardless of the circumstance.

“It’s nice to be out here,” Marbut said after a 3 1/2 -hour session. “At this time, we can’t ask for any better weather than we’ve got. We can get a lot done, and I think our practice was very productive because of it.

“We got everything done today that we wanted to get done, and hopefully that will continue.”

The productivity didn’t just include the normal first baseman-to-pitcher toss that is so commonly associated with the first practices of a season.

The Cougars played five innings in an intrasquad scrimmage, something Marbut said he’d like to make a staple of his team’s preparation as they gear up for the season opener at Sacramento State on Feb. 4.

“The disadvantages these teams have had in the past is that they weren’t playing,” said Marbut, who was an assistant under Tim Mooney last season before moving up to the top spot when Mooney resigned after four seasons at WSU. “Last year, we weren’t on our field before a ballgame. Shoot, we’re going to get four or five innings of scrimmage a day. In my mind, we’re going to have 10 small scrimmages before we play and four or five long ones.

“I feel like we’re going to be somewhat game-ready.”

This year’s Cougars certainly bear the look of a team that’s rebuilding, as 13 freshmen are on the roster. Marbut has said that 12 of them will be among the 27 players he takes on the first road trip to Sacramento, and he already has plans to give newcomers starting roles, including Walla Walla native Matthew Thomas at shortstop.

While the new coach intends to build the Cougars for long-term success, he insists that the reliance on freshmen now has less to do with future success than with their current chances.

“We’re traveling them because we think they’re ready,” he said. “We’re not just taking them to take them.”

Marbut, who was a coach at Edmonds Community College before coming to WSU, also has the advantage of having brought three of his players along with him.

With the experience he has coaching the rest of the Cougars from last season, Marbut feels that he is on good ground to start adding up the wins sooner rather than later.

“It’s really good,” he said. “There’s some familiarity. … Being fortunate enough to have the role that I had last year, we started implementing the things we’re doing now as well.”

Huskies gain support

The University of Washington was selected in a tie for 12th in the Sports Weekly/ESPN Preseason Coaches’ Poll, released Wednesday.

The Huskies finished 39-20-1 last year and ranked No. 23. They received 427 points in the poll, which is compiled from the votes of 40 Division I coaches.

Texas earned 15 first-place votes and 953 points to rank No. 1 in the poll. Defending national champion Cal State Fullerton was ranked second, receiving 16 first-place votes and 914 points.

Washington begins spring practice today at the Dempsey indoor facility.