It only took a month, but the WSU baseball team finally got its first series victory of the season, beating Texas State two out of three games in Pullman on Friday and Saturday.
The Cougars are now 4-8 on the season as they prepare to open Pac-12 play at Arizona on Friday.
The third game against Texas State -- the second of a doubleheader on Saturday as the teams tried to beat Sunday's rain -- actually was tied heading into the ninth inning, but Donnie Marbut's secondary bullpen arms couldn't hold the Bobcats in check as they scored a pair of runs. The Cougs couldn't answer.
"It was nice to win a series," Cougar Head Coach Donnie Marbut said. "But, you always want more. If you win one, you want win two and take a series. If you win two, you want to sweep. We had a chance to do that, but did not do some of the little things we needed to do to win the last game."
While the sweep would have been great -- this team is not in a position to let go of any games -- sometimes a team just needs to take some baby steps and win a series. The Cougs did that, scoring 15 runs in the process and pitching well enough.
It wasn't dominant, but we'll take it at this point.
What we liked
This team has had a habit of either the arms or the bats performing well, but usually not both at the same time. This weekend, it wasn't as if both set the world on fire, but both were good enough that WSU was on the cusp of sweeping a pretty OK opponent.
I realize that "on the cusp of sweeping a pretty OK opponent" is a pretty big drop from what this team was expected to do coming into the season, but standards have been modified a bit at this point.
It was nice to see the bats come alive a little bit. No, 15 runs over three games isn't fabulous, but the Cougs did have nine extra base hits in the set to raise their team slugging percentage to .307. It doesn't matter that it's still near the bottom of the conference; at least it's trending in the right direction.
And the pitching was, as we said, good enough. Holding an opponent to 14 runs in a three-game set gives your team the chance to win every game, and that's exactly what it got the Cougs. Joe Pistorese once again gave WSU an excellent start, Tanner Chleborad was solid, and Jason Monda had a great thing going until a meltdown in the sixth. The Cougs would win the game anyway.
At some point, this team needed to prove it could put together a solid weekend. It did that.
What needs to improve
Those nine extra base hits probably should have produced more than the 15 runs WSU scored, especially since two of them were homers. The problem? Like the Mariners of 2013, there just aren't enough guys on base when someone comes up with a big hit. Leadoff man Trek Stemp is sporting a .321 on-base percentage, and No. 2 man Collin Slaybaugh is at .268.
Meanwhile, 3 and 4 hitters Nick Tanielu (.375/.400/.521) and Yale Rosen (.342/.490/.526) are mashing the ball all over the yard. The two have 10 extra base hits combined; the rest of the team has 11. If you needed proof as to how useless a stat RBI is, Rosen -- batting cleanup -- has the highest slugging percentage on the team, yet has just five RBIs. That puts him in a tie for third.
Tanielu and Rosen are legit. Some people need to start getting on base for this team to score some more runs. It also wouldn't hurt if P.J. Jones (now 0-for-30 on the season) and Jason Monda (.154/.267/.192) started hitting.
Monda is particularly puzzling, given that his talent is such that Philadelphia was willing to spend a sixth round draft choice on him. He pitched five strong innings before falling apart in the sixth on Friday, then he didn't play at all on Saturday but for one pinch hit appearance. One has to wonder if maybe he's hurt. Perhaps Donnie will speak to that during his news conference on Tuesday.
Yale Rosen was an absolute terror at the plate this weekend, going 6-for-10 with two doubles and a homer to drive in three runs. He's giving Tanielu a run for his money in the "most dangerous hitter in the order" contest.
Honorable Mention: Tanielu (5-for-13, 2B, HR, SB), Pistorese (6 2/3 IP, 1 R, 3 K, 2 BB), Ian Hamilton (1 2/3 IP, 0 R, 2 H) Matt Bower (1 1/3, 2 H, 0 R)
The P.J. Jones hit watch is officially on. I feel awful for the kid, honestly - I'm sure he's long past the point of getting inside his own head. I'm guessing that happened somewhere around 0-for-15. Now, he's at 0-for-30. For context of what a hole that is, 10 consecutive hits would only raise his overall batting average to .250.
He must call one heck of a game, or I assume Slaybaugh would be starting more regularly back there. Makes you wonder how long Marbut will continue to roll with him, though.
Typically, a trip to Arizona would be cause for extreme consternation. But the 2012 College World Series champions are off to a bit of a rough start this year, having posted just an 9-9 record that includes losing seven of their last 10 games.
That said, the offense is scary good, as Arizona hits .313/.405/.404 as a team. By contrast, Tanielu and Rosen are the only Cougs to exceed any of those marks. The Wildcats' top two hitters are outfielder Scott Kingery (.419/.519/.565) and second baseman Trent Gilbert (.406/.468/.667). Perhaps the Cougar bats also will catch fire in the dry desert air.
James Farris is the Friday night starter; he was a 15th round pick of the Astros in last year's draft. He doesn't rack up enough strikeouts to qualify as a power pitcher, but he gets enough that he's not entirely dependent on his defense (31 Ks in 34 IP). That goes for the rest of the rotation, too.
The games are at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon on Sunday. You can watch them here if you're so inclined.