WSU baseball heads to Corvallis, Oregon, this weekend for the toughest challenge of the season: A three-game series with No. 1 Oregon State.
It marks a special moment for coach Marty Lees, who was a longtime assistant to OSU coach Pat Casey during the Beavers’ rise to prominence, which included a pair of national championships. The Cougs played OSU in Pullman last year, so this marks his first return to the place he helped transform.
“Coach Casey, obviously the staff, are very good friends of ours, and I owe everything I’ve got going in life to what he’s given me the opportunity to do,” Lees said during his weekly news conference. “So, looking forward to that, but when first pitch is thrown, we’re not friends anymore. We’re trying to win.
“They’ve got a good thing going, they’re working for a No. 1 seed, a lot at stake for everybody, but I’m just excited that we’ve been playing so well and really haven’t thought about what could happen in a week or two weeks. I’ve been more invested in helping our kids get better, getting them to live in the moment, and getting them to play the way they can play.”
The Beavers are 42-4 overall and 24-3 in the Pac-12 — second place Stanford is 15-9.
“Oregon State’s been good for a very long time and they’ve got a special group of kids that, quite frankly, are on a mission,” Lees said. “They’ve got the best pitching staff in the country, by numbers and by watching them.”
It’s quite the contrast to the Cougars, who were projected to be one of the worst teams in the conference before the season started, and the early conference slate seemed to bear that out: WSU began Pac-12 play 2-10 after playing three of its first four series on the road with an inexperienced squad.
But that fourth series, in which WSU was swept by Arizona State in Tempe, the Cougs showed the ship was turning — two of the losses came by just one run. Since then, they’ve been on a steady climb up the Pac-12 standings, winning four consecutive series.
“We started really pitching well, higher level defense, our offense has been pretty much good the whole year,” Lees said, “but when you add what (Friday pitcher) Damon Jones can do and you put (Ryan) Walker where he should be (in the bullpen), and then with what Cody Anderson has been continually doing for a majority of this season, we have a chance to be very good.
“It’s everything we envisioned with this club as we recruited them as we started the season and I think they’re coming into their own. I really like the energy, I like the toughness that they’re showing, the absolute resilience to not get beat, and not give up. It’s been a fun group to be around.”
They’ve climbed to eighth place in the standings at 10-14 and are now 24-23 overall. That improvement will certainly be put to the test this weekend.
“It’s good for us right now,” Lees said. “We’re playing our best baseball, and you have to play good baseball against them. Errors and missed pitches, not taking advantage of runners at second and third, or third, they’ll make you pay the price.”
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The series begins Friday at 4 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.
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