PULLMAN – Donnie Marbut can’t help but wonder what might have happened if this Washington State baseball team had found itself a few weeks sooner.
After sputtering to a 1-9 start in Pac-10 play this season, the Cougars drew within one game of the end of its conference schedule by winning for the ninth time in 13 games on Saturday. The 10-5 victory at Bailey-Brayton Field against UCLA also provides WSU with a chance to sweep a Pac-10 series for the first time since the league took its current form in 1999.
“There aren’t a lot of teams in the country that could be 1-9 and then be 10-13,” Marbut said. “I wish I could explain it, because then maybe we wouldn’t have been 1-9.”
The explanation for what’s taken place against a UCLA team that still had designs on a Pac-10 title two days ago is pretty simple – starting pitching.
One day after Wayne Daman Jr. threw a complete game for the Cougars, Jayson Miller went 8 1/3 innings on Saturday, allowing all five runs but keeping WSU in the lead throughout.
Miller, the reigning Pac-10 pitcher of the week, is usually a Sunday starter but because of a nagging injury to Nick Ison the two pitchers swapped days. That change in routine didn’t seem to bother Miller one bit, as the junior moved to 5-2 on the season by cruising after the Cougars put up three runs in the bottom of the first.
“We just got two great performances from starters the last two days,” first baseman Jim Murphy said. “We didn’t use up any of our bullpen the last two days, so we’ve got anybody coming out of our pen (today).”
And, as is so often the case with a team playing better baseball, the Cougars (27-23) are getting improved performances all over the diamond.
Murphy, who has suffered through a terrible season-long slump, knocked in three runs against the Bruins (28-24, 12-8 Pac-10), including two on a first-inning single. Home runs by Jeff Miller and Jared Prince in the middle innings helped WSU give Miller even more of a cushion.
“We were a good offensive team last year and we have just as good offensive players this year, maybe better,” Marbut said. “And for a while we weren’t swinging the bat like I thought we were going to. Some guys pressed.”
A win today in the home finale would not only send off the senior class with a prized sweep, but also it would give WSU its best Pac-10 record since 1996. Last year, WSU finished 10-14 in league play.
“It feels nice to contribute, get a couple of RBIs,” said Murphy, now hitting .222 on the season. “We’ve picked up lately.”
“A six-run third inning gave Arizona an early lead as the Wildcats cruised to a 13-4 win over Washington in a Pac-10 game at Kindall Field.
Jon Gatson hit a two-run homer in the eighth for Arizona.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats (38-13 overall, 13-7 in the Pac-10) took over second place, moving past UCLA with the win. Washington fell into fifth place with the loss, dropping to 27-25 overall and 9-11 in the conference.
“Chris Bozo went 2 for 2 and drove in five runs, leading CC Spokane to a 13-5 win over Wenatchee Valley in a NWAACC East Region playoff game at Avista Stadium in Spokane. Justin Krieger added two hits and two RBIs for the Sasquatch (29-20).
CCS’ second game was not reported.