For 26 innings, the WSU Cougars could do little-to-nothing against the UCLA Bruins and their almost-unfairly-good starting pitching.
Then came the ninth inning on Sunday.
The Cougs scored three times in the final half inning to beat the Bruins, 3-2, and escape the three-game series with a victory that leaves the team and fans wondering once again: Is this the thing that finally gets them going?
It was another ugly weekend for the offense. Gerrit Cole, likely the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft this summer, pitched a complete-game in Friday's 3-1 UCLA win. Saturday's complete game performance by Trevor Bauer -- also likely to be a first round pick this summer -- could either be described as more or less impressive, depending on your perspective; he did give up three runs in the 10-3 victory, but he also struck out 15.
Then came freshman Adam Plutko on Sunday. All he did was shut out the Cougs on one hit through eight innings, leading UCLA to a 2-0 advantage. But after yielding a scorching line drive about a foot from his head to first batter of the ninth inning, Collin Slaybaugh, UCLA coach John Savage lifted Plutko for Nick Vander Tieg.
Finally, the Cougs got to the bullpen. And like so many times last year, it was where they found their success.
Cody Bartlett reached on an infield single, and Brett Jacobs moved both runners up with a sacrifice. It's generally a bad idea to give away outs when you've only got three left, but given the state of the WSU offense, coach Donnie Marbut rolled the dice that it was more likely to get one hit out of two batters than it was to get two hits -- or one extra-base hit -- out of three batters.
It worked. Taylor Ard smoked a line drive up the middle to score both.
It appeared the game would likely head to extra innings when Ard got thrown out trying to advance on a ball that got away from catcher Steve Rodriguez. But Derek Jones hit a bomb off the center field wall for a triple off of the second reliever, Mitchell Beacom, to put the winning run in scoring position.
An intentional walk to a struggling Matt Argyropoulos set up the lefty-lefty matchup with freshman Jason Monda. With the left fielder playing a little shallow in an apparent (and puzzling) attempt to cut down Jones on a single to the left side, Monda simply removed all doubt by banging it off the wall on a hop to win the game.
"We needed this win and it was a big one for us," Marbut said. "Hopefully this will give us some momentum going forward."
Of course, that was the mantra after the comeback wins over Gonzaga on March 29 and Stanford three nights later broke a six-game losing streak; they then lost four of their next five (all of them conference games) before yesterday's victory.
Unfortunately, in the brutal Pac-10, it doesn't get any easier. Sitting at 2-7 in conference, WSU now heads to Tempe to take on Arizona State. Although the Sun Devils are coming off a sweep at the hands of surging Oregon State, they're still ranked as high as 10th in the major polls.
We've said it before, and it applies again: The Cougs need to win this series to get their postseason hopes back on track. With the season about half over, they need to get a quality series victory. If they can do that the next two weekends away from home -- they go to Corvallis after that -- the stretch run features the weaker teams in the Pac-10, almost all at home.
But they gotta beat someone who's good two out of three first. And they haven't shown they can do that.
After the jump: Video highlights of the game from the excellent webcast. Big ups to GoCougs and the whole team he was a part of this weekend. The production was excellent - as a Murrow alum, I would expect nothing less!