PULLMAN – Washington State defeated UCLA handily on Friday and Saturday, needing its bullpen for just two outs.
On Sunday, the Cougars discovered just how valuable that superior starting pitching was.
After Nick Ison threw seven solid innings and handed over a 4-2 lead to the relief staff, WSU promptly allowed four eighth-inning runs and another in the ninth, losing 7-5 and missing an opportunity to claim the first three-game sweep of a Pac-10 foe since the conference’s current alignment was established in 1999.
“In my opinion, we outplayed them for 25 innings this weekend. And that gets us two wins,” Cougar coach Donnie Marbut said. “We needed to outplay them for 27 innings to win all three, and we just didn’t do that today. We didn’t finish.”
In that eighth inning, the Bruins (29-24, 13-8 Pac-10) sent just two of their five hits out of the infield. But a series of misplays by the Cougar defense helped UCLA add one baserunner after another, eventually scoring the go-ahead runs.
Marbut hadn’t expected many innings out of Ison, whose start was delayed by a day because of a sore back. With a fresh bullpen to use, Marbut said he figured on needing at least four innings from his relievers. But after yielding two runs in the first three innings, Ison faced just one batter more than the minimum in the next four frames.
“He was a little shaky early and then he just started putting up zeroes. We couldn’t have asked for more,” Mabut said, complimenting his senior righty in WSU’s home finale. “It’s a good last effort for a guy who’s battled a back problem.”
WSU closer Ross Humes (3-3), who was the third Cougar pitcher in the eighth, couldn’t get out of a tough jam and ended up taking the loss.
The Cougars (27-24, 10-14) have now completed their Pac-10 schedule, one week earlier than the rest of the league. Their final conference mark this season matches the one from 2006, and they both represent the school’s best record since finishing .500 in 1996.
“I thought we were in line to get (the sweep),” said right fielder Jared Prince, who made a spectacular catch to end the sixth while slamming into the fence. “We won the series and that’s our goal. … Then again, you’d like to step on people’s throats and get the sweep.”
For the Bruins, starter Gavin Brooks (4-6) got the win by throwing 121 pitches over 72/3 innings. Garrett Claypool picked up his fourth save of the season.
The Cougars finish their season next weekend with a non-conference road trip to UC Davis.