PULLMAN – Sunday afternoon will offer Washington State’s baseball team one final chance to suppress Oregon State’s jolting offense and stage an upset of the third-ranked visitors – the kind of thing that could go a long way for the Cougars’ confidence heading into the most crucial stretch of their 2018 season.
Easier said than done, of course.
After a 17-run, 20-hit barrage Friday night, the Beavers returned to Bailey-Brayton Field on Saturday evening and shelled out 17 hits to beat the Cougars 9-1 and clinch a Pac-12 series in front of a decent contingent of WSU fans but perhaps a larger group of traveling OSU supporters.
The Cougars (14-24, 6-13) will try to avoid getting swept and the Beavers (34-7, 13-6) will gun for the third sweep of the league season when the Pac-12 teams meet Sunday at noon.
OSU nearly matched its hit count from the series opener and WSU barely exceeded its own, but the Cougars were still a more competitive bunch Saturday
“I thought so,” WSU coach Marty Lees said. “They were just flat-out a better team today. But we had some good ABs. I thought we just missed a couple pitches we were on and hit ’em hard. But it just snowballs.”
Similar to Friday night, when the Beavers plated 15 of their 17 runs in the game’s final five innings, it took a few innings for the OSU bats to wake from their slumber. The Cougars managed to secure their first lead of the series when J.J. Hancock ripped a solo home run over the right-field fence, putting the home team up 1-0.
OSU found its way to two runs in the top of the third and the Beavers seized the momentum – and essentially the game – in the fourth when WSU starter Scotty Sunitsch misplaced a few pitches and the Beavers took advantage of some of his better offerings.
The five-hit, four-run fourth started when Michael Gretler delivered a laser down the third-base line to give the Beavers a leadoff double. A 2-1 game quickly turned into a 4-1 game when the next hitter, Kyle Nobach, stepped up and belted a waist-high heater over the left-center field fence.
“(Sunitsch) was probably missing a spot and they do a good job of staying behind the baseball and hitting balls up the middle,” said Lees, formerly an 11-year assistant to longtime OSU coach Pat Casey. “If you stay down and away, it’s pretty good, but if you elevate it a little, they’ll just hit it right where it’s pitched.”
The Beavers snagged one more hit before the Cougars secured their first out of the inning. OSU scored its fourth run of the frame when a low offering from Sunitsch skimmed across the turf and past WSU catcher Cal Waterman, allowing Steven Kwan to score on a wild pitch.
OSU came out of the inning with a 6-1 lead and added three insurance runs in the seventh and eighth. Beavers starter Bryce Fehmel gave up six hits in five innings and kept WSU off the scoreboard aside from Hancock’s blast. Brandon Eisert closed out the Cougars, allowing one hit in 3 2/3 innings of relief.
“He got outs,” Lees said of Fehmel. “Felt like we put some good swings on them, didn’t have much to show for it but he’s pitched that way for his last three years and he’s nothing special, however he throws strikes … and he competes.”
WSU players walked off the field with their third straight Pac-12 loss, but many of them may still be glued to SportsCenter tonight to see if an acrobatic leap from center field Danny Sinatro made the show’s “Top 10 plays” segment.
Playing deep in the outfield, Sinatro tracked down a long shot from OSU’s P.J. Jones and extended his body, making a diving catch to end the inning and preserve what would’ve been a run-scoring double.
“I don’t think too much out there, I just kind of react,” Sinatro said. “I didn’t know if I’d get it, but I was just trying to give it my best shot.”
“Danny’s made two years of those catches,” Lees said. “We’ll get him going at the plate. He’s a special athlete and he’ll be growing with us and hopefully he can make another jump here before the end of the year.”