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Washington State off to impressive start

The start itself is impressive, but how Washington State University began the 2010 baseball season is even more so.

The Cougars returned from Lubbock, Texas, with a 6-0 record, their best start since the 1988 team won its first nine games. WSU swept the four-game Brooks Wallace Memorial Classic at Texas Tech without two of its top three starting pitchers.

Redshirt sophomore left-hander David Stilley, the No. 2 starter who won his first game this season, and freshman right-hander Travis Cook, penciled in at the third spot before the year, didn’t make the trip because of injuries.

Though both are expected back soon, the Cougars used James Wise and Central Valley High graduate Rusty Shellhorn as starters and then relied on the bullpen to finish the wins.

“You look at injuries as a blessing early and you look at them as a curse late in the season,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said Tuesday. “Now kids are getting an opportunity they wouldn’t necessarily have. Maybe a guy who wasn’t in the rotation is in the rotation now and he doesn’t let them back in.”

Though the Cougars sport a 3.70 team earned-run average – sophomore left-hander Spencer Jackson, who defeated Bethune-Cookman last Friday, throwing five innings of four-hit ball, leads the way at 1.50 – and have committed just two errors, it’s their offense that’s really started quickly.

Paced by right-fielder Derek Jones, the tournament MVP, and his .478 batting average, WSU is hitting .362 and averaging 11 runs a game. Even throwing out the 23-0 rout of Seattle University in the first weekend, WSU is scoring better than eight runs a game.

“We just try (to build) the picket fence,” said Marbut, whose team’s biggest explosion in Texas was four runs, including an eighth-inning rally that lifted the Cougars past Tech 6-3 on Friday. “If you can score every inning, you are putting pressure on the pitcher … and hopefully get to the bullpen, because that’s how you win games.”

That was the formula against Texas Tech.

“I try to tell them if you’re a really good team, you don’t get down,” Marbut said. “But you are going to get down in ballgames. You can’t lead in every game. It’s nice to show resiliency and it’s nice to show there is not a lot of panic.”

WSU will host Utah (5-2) in four nonconference games this weekend, starting with a 1 p.m. game Friday. The fast start earned the Cougars their first ranking of the season, 28th in this week’s Collegiate Baseball Magazine poll.

•Gonzaga had its last two games last Sunday in the Peoria (Ariz.) College Showdown rained out, robbing the Zags (2-3) of a chance to avenge losses to Kansas and Sacramento State.

The Bulldogs start a 10-game road swing Friday at Centenary College in Shreveport, La. After three games in Louisiana, they travel to Lubbock for two games with Texas Tech and then on to San Antonio for the Irish Baseball Classic featuring Notre Dame, Bradley and Pacific.

Designated hitter Andy Hunter is off to a torrid start, with 11 hits in 21 at-bats (a .524 average), including three home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.095 slugging percentage.

•Whitworth lost three games last weekend against the College of Idaho in Caldwell, dropping its record to 1-9. Landon Scott and Ferris High’s Kyle Krustangel lead the Pirates’ offense, hitting .400 and .367, respectively. Whitworth heads to Northern California for three games against Menlo College this weekend.

•Community Colleges of Spokane opens its season this weekend with a four games in The Dalles, Ore., against Linn-Benton and Clackamas. … Former Washington State quarterback J.T. Levenseller is on the roster at Big Bend CC in Moses Lake.

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