If you followed the baseball team at all last year, you know that late-inning comebacks were simply part of this team's M.O. They'd grind through the first five or so innings, wearing out an opposing team's starter before getting to the soft underbelly of opponents' bullpens and piling up runs late.
In true WSU baseball fashion, the Cougars needed a late inning rally to defeat Cal State Bakersfield today, 4-3, to secure the series win before heading back to Pullman next weekend for the home opener at Bailey-Brayton Field.
Today's hero was newcomer Taylor Ard, whose second homer of the weekend -- with the Cougs trailing 3-2 after a Trace Tam Sing RBI single -- was a two-out, two-run job in the seventh that proved to be the game winner. Ard only had three hits on the weekend, but all were extra base hits.
James Wise, who was huge down the stretch last season, had a solid debut in the 2011 season, allowing three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He also had six strikeouts against three walks.
Closer Paris Shewey, who took over the role at the end of last season when Friday's starter Adam Conley moved into the rotation, made things interesting in the ninth when runners reached first and second with only one out, but Shewey secured his first save of the season with a game-ending double play.
There were the usual early-season jitters this weekend -- Cougar pitchers hit five opposing batters in the three games, and fielders committed five errors. But it was an encouraging start to the year for a number of reasons.
First off, the newcomers came through in a big way at the plate. If you would have told me that Cody Bartlett and Derek Jones would combine to hit .160, I would have said we might have been in for a long weekend. But Ard (a sophomore transfer from Mt. Hood C.C.), Jason Monda and Colin Slaybaugh (both freshmen) started all three games and combined to bat 12-for-32 (.375) and slug .719.
And it wasn't just the newcomers at the plate. Freshman J.D. Leckenby pitched 1 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Wise to get to Shewey; freshman Brandon Williams was able to come into a mess of a situation on Saturday and keep the team close enough to give them a shot at a comeback in what looked to be a blowout.
Second, most of the veteran pitchers were excellent. Conley and Wise were both stellar in their debuts. With ace Chad Arnold still rehabbing an elbow injury for roughly the next month, both will be counted on to lead the way. So far, so good. And while we already mentioned Shewey, sophomore lefty David Ochoa earned the save on Friday with a perfect inning that featured a pair of strikeouts.
Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the MVP of the weekend, a guy who's not a newcomer by any means: Senior third baseman Matt Argyropoulos. He batted .545/.615/.909 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a homer and four RBIs.
The Cougs are back in action on Friday at 3:30 p.m. against UC Santa Barbara in Pullman. The game will be available via webcast, as will all the home games this season (except for the couple on FSN).