NCAA REGIONAL PREVIEW: A primer on our No. 2 WSU Cougars

Derek Jones should play a huge role for the Cougs this weekend. (via wsucougars.com)

In an effort to get you as fired up as possible for WSU's second straight appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament, here is the first of our four capsule previews -- your Washington State Cougars. We figured there would be a lot of you who have not been following this team closely all year and we wanted to give you a run-down on the "who's who" in Cougar baseball.

We'll be back with the rest of the team previews later in the week.

Record: 34-20, 15-12 Pac-10 Conference

Coach: Donnie Marbut - 6th year at WSU (182-147)

How they got here: At large bid after finishing third in the Pac-10

NCAA Tournament history: The Cougs are making their 16th NCAA tournament appearance. 2010 marks their second straight after not participating in the postseason for 19 years.

The season in a nutshell: The first half of the season saw the Cougs take a huge series from #1 Arizona State. However, as little as a month ago, they saw themselves in ninth place in the Pac-10 and in need of a run to make the tournament. They did just that, winning 9 of their last 12 conference games and solidifying their postseason position.

WSU piled up most of it's conference victories at home. They went 10-2 with series victories over ASU, Cal, and OSU.

Standing in the batter's box, you don't want to face ... Chad Arnold. He has been the only consistent presence on the Cougar starting rotation and easily threw the most innings. Chad leads the team in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), due in large part to his ability to keep the ball in the yard. He has given up just four home runs in 98 2/3 innings pitched.

Arnold possesses a plus fastball and has a solid breaking ball. Thanks to those pitches, he has shown the ability to dominate at times this season, posting high single game strikeout totals and pitching into the 8th and 9th innings on several occasions.

Looking down from the hill, don't give anything to hit to ... Derek Jones. While Michael Weber had a nice late surge to claim the team lead in wOBA, Jones is the most powerful run-producing force the Cougs have to offer. He led the team in homers with 11, despite missing 9 games due to injury. He also posted a team-leading ISO (Isolated power) of .229.

A darkhorse candidate at the plate has to be Cody Bartlett. The one-time defensive specialist had an awesome 2010. The small second baseman was third on the team in slugging, posted 22 extra base hits in 168 at bats, and was fourth on the team with a wOBA of .389.

The Cougars could win the regional if ... they plug up the gaps and catch the ball. It's no coincidence that nearly every Cougar pitcher that throws with regularity has a higher FIP than ERA. This defense has speed. Wazzu prevents a lot of runs simply by turning balls in play that would be hits for other teams into outs. The Cougs just need to avoid bad throws and bobbles and they should keep the opponents' scores low.

The Cougs  will be 0-2-barbecue if ... they have trouble making contact. This team thrives on putting the ball in play and "singling the opposition to death." They don't draw a lot of walks, so if they are missing pitches the zeroes can pile up in a hurry. Exhibit one comes from this last weekend, when UCLA's bat-missing starters made quick work of WSU's hitters.

The good news for the Cougs is that their first opponent, Kansas State, does not have a starter who can match the power of the UCLA staff.

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