Marty Lees’ third season at the helm of WSU baseball isn’t going the way anyone envisioned. After a road sweep at the hands of the UCLA Bruins, the Cougs now sit at 4-12.
As is often the case for WSU at this point in the season, most of the games have been away from Bailey-Brayton Field, and that’s been a struggle: The Cougs are just 2-10 in those games. They also were denied an opportunity to get more experience and (maybe) a few more wins when Sacramento State pulled out of a trip to Pullman.
That’s not to say there isn’t hope; the Cougs showed some good things in Los Angeles last weekend, and this is a young lineup that is developing. Still, the losses are really piling up, and there’s no soft landing on the horizon as WSU hits the road again this week, for Tucson.
What Happened Last Weekend
Oh, what could have been.
The “weekend” started with a dud of a loss to Long Beach State, 5-1, but the bats finally showed up in Westwood. Unfortunately, the bullpen’s most reliable arm faltered at the same time, and what could have been a massively successful weekend against the No. 14 Bruins ended up as just another sweep.
The opener looked an awful lot like a lot of other losses for the Cougs as they piled up base runners all game but struggled to get them across the plate, leaving 13 runners on base in the 6-5 loss. WSU tried to take advantage of strong outings from Collin Maier and Dylan Orlando — who threw 2 2⁄3 innings of two-hit, scoreless ball to keep the Bruins within striking distance — by scoring a couple of runs in the 9th to make it closer, but the potential tying run stayed on first base when pinch hitter Wyatt Segle popped out to shallow left.
Saturday and Sunday, though, were wholly different. In each game, the Cougars took a lead into the bottom of the eighth, and in each game, the Bruins took the lead in that frame and closed it out in the ninth.
On Saturday, WSU dropped five runs on the Bruins in the third inning, first by manufacturing a couple of runs with a couple of singles, a bunt, a sac fly, and another single. Then Justin Harrer stepped in and belted his second homer of the series — he hit one in the ninth on Friday — and Blake Clanton followed with a homer of his own.
But in the eighth with WSU holding a one-run lead, the Bruins got to the Cougs’ most dependable reliever, Ryan Walker, for four runs: single, walk, double, hit by pitch, single, single ... and the damage was done. The Cougs tried to rally in the ninth, as the first two batters reached base, but the game ended at 8-5 when Andres Alvarez popped out and Dillon Plew hit a line drive to first that caught Collin Montez off the base.
On Sunday, the Cougs once again took a relatively early lead, putting up three runs in the fourth to take a 4-3 advantage. It started with a homer from Harrer — yes, his third in three games — and then was added to with a single and four walks that produced a pair of runs.
Starting pitcher Cody Anderson settled in from there, throwing four consecutive scoreless innings, pitching into the eighth inning. Lees made the move to Walker after Anderson gave up a leadoff single, but it was a struggle again for the senior: after a sacrifice bunt moved the tying run into scoring position, the WSU reliever walked the bases full.
After Walker got the next batter to pop out to shortstop, WSU thought he had wriggled off the hook with a pitch that painted the inside corner for what everyone thought was strike three. But the umpire didn’t call it, and the next pitch was slapped into right field for a two-run single — 5-4, UCLA. WSU went 1-2-3 in the ninth, and the sweep was complete.
Batter of the Weekend
Harrer is the obvious choice here after going 5-for-13 with three dingers for a nifty little .385/.429/1.077 slash line. He now has five homers in his career against UCLA, and he carries a five-game hitting streak into this weekend. Clanton also had a great weekend, going 6-for-13 with a double and a homer.
Pitcher of the Weekend
Let’s go with Anderson. The lanky senior lefty with the fantastic facial hair had a nice 7-inning performance in which he gave up four runs on nine hits with three strikeouts and a walk. It wasn’t dominant, but it certainly gave his team a chance to win.
Shout-out to middle relievers Maier, Orlando, Michael Newstrom and Hayden Rosenkrantz for combining for 5 1⁄3 innings of shutout ball.
The bad news is that the series with Arizona is on the road; the good news is that the Wildcats aren’t exactly world beaters. They are just 11-9 overall and also are 0-3 in conference after being swept by Washington in Seattle.
That said, more was expected of the Wildcats following an NCAA tournament appearance last season, which means they’re dangerous.
All three games will be streamed online. Here are the probables: