Adam Conley (shown here pitching in the NCAA Tournament last year) struggled with his command on Friday, but he was good enough to get into the eighth inning against Washington and earn the win. Photo courtesy of WSU Sports Information.
With baseball's regular season speeding towards the finish line, WSU began its stretch run with a nice -- but slightly unsatisfying -- series win over the Washington Huskies at Bailey-Brayton Field this weekend.
The reason the Cougs won't feel super great about this one? The sweep was there for the taking yesterday, but they let it slip through their fingers. Assuming they can put together a run, this team is going to struggle enough on selection day without many quality wins; every victory matters at this point.
The series started off on Friday with 5-2 win behind a laudable effort from starter Adam Conley, who clearly didn't have his best stuff. He was missing spots and allowing base runners all over the place, but when it was all said and done, he was able to get two outs into the eighth while giving up only two runs to Washington's punchless lineup. As I watched the game on replay, I found myself wondering early on how he got so deep. In short, he got better as the game went on.
Meanwhile, Matt Argyropoulos and Derek Jones took advantage of a strong wind to right -- each hit high fly balls that would have died on the warning track on a normal day but instead were carried over the wall for home runs that plated three of the five runs in the first three innings. It was all they would need.
The Cougs saved their real offensive explosion for Saturday, though, pounding the Huskies 11-6 before a regionally televised audience. Jones and Patrick Claussen each had four hits, as WSU scored all of its runs in the first five innings. The big blow was a two-out, bases-loaded triple by Claussen in the fifth that turned the game into a laugher.
Chad Arnold, ostensibly still working his way back to health, struggled once again, giving up four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. But Richie Ochoa was stellar in relief to keep the Huskies at bay.
Then came Sunday. The Cougs trailed 4-3 heading into the top of the ninth. Closer Paris Shewey, who had held the Huskies scoreless after coming in to relieve Anthony Drobnick with just one out in the seventh, gave up two insurance runs due in no small part to a misplay by Jones of a fly ball into that dangerous wind in right.
But as has been the case so often under Donnie Marbut, the Cougars fought back. With two outs and nobody on, Brett Jacobs reached when UW third baseman Troy Scott committed his third throwing error of the day. Pinch hitter Collin Slaybaugh sliced a single through the left side, then Adam Nelubowich cleared them both with double down the left field line.
With the tying run at second base, UW coach Lindsay Megs went to his bullpen to relieve Jacob Clem, who had held the Cougs in check over his 6 2/3 innings in relief of the starter before the ninth-inning outburst. Freshman Tyler Kane struggled to find the plate initially, and with the count in his favor 2-0, Cody Bartlett -- WSU's best hitter over the last month -- hit one on the screws ... but right at Scott, who made sure there would be no error this time by long hopping the throw over to first to end the game.
It just left the taste of a missed opportunity in everyone's mouths.
"We had the opportunity to sweep and did not take advantage of it," Cougar Head Coach Donnie Marbut told WSU Sports Information. "Still we won a series, which is not easy to do in this conference, and I am proud of the way we battled in the ninth inning today. So, there are some positives in the weekend."
Of course, everything this time of year comes back to the question of what this did for WSU's postseason hopes. I'm not a baseball bracketologist, but my take on the weekend is this: It was OK, but not great.
The Cougs have just come off of a brutally tough stretch of games the previous six weeks, playing an almost unbelievable 20 of 21 games against ranked opponents. They were just 5-15 in those 20 games, and two of the wins were mid-week games against Gonzaga versus pitchers who don't normally start. Two of the other three wins came on a Sunday against the opponents' third-best starter, and the remaining win was a freakish comeback against Stanford.
Translation? If I'm the selection committee, I'm seriously questioning whether this team has what it takes to compete against an elite team in the postseason. And with only one series remaining against a potentially ranked opponent -- Arizona is currently sitting on the fringe of some polls -- this team's best shot is to pile up a ton of wins down the stretch and convince the committee it's getting hot at the right time.
Sweeping Washington, a bad team by any measure, at home would have been a fine start. But, like so many other times this season, they just couldn't quite finish the job.
The Cougs get a break from Pac-10 play, welcoming UNLV to Pullman for a three-game set this weekend. Sweep that one, and WSU has suddenly won eight of nine. But they're running out of time to make statements.
Video of the weekend after the jump via WSU Sports Information.