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WSU baseball stuns No. 9 Arizona to take first Pac-12 series of the year

The Cougs snap their road losing streak with a pair of upset wins.

Washington State Cougars Baseball Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars snagged a series win over the No. 9 Arizona Wildcats over the weekend.

After dropping 11 straight road games, WSU (12-19, 4-11 in Pac-12) picked up the first two games, including a late rally in game two, to secure their first conference series win of the season. Arizona (22-10, 10-5) avoided the sweep with a game three victory on Sunday afternoon.

Game 1: WSU 11, Arizona 5

Arizona jumped on Cougs starter Cole McMillan right out of the gate. McMillan (2-3, 7.20 ERA) plunked Wildcats leadoff man Mac Bingham on a two-strike count then walked two of the next three Wildcat batters to load the bases with just one out. The Cougs were able to keep a run off the board after getting a force out at the plate to get the second out, then McMillan got ahead early against Noah Turley, putting the Cats’ six-hole hitter in an 0-2 hole. But, Turley battled tough, fouling off five pitches and watching a ball before crushing a no-doubt grand slam over the batters eye in dead center field to give Arizona a quick 4-0 lead.

WSU put their plate discipline on display in the third. Kyler Stancato poked a lead-off single into left to get the inning going, then Elijah Hainline and Jack Smith followed a Kodie Kolden lineout with back-to-back five-pitch walks to load the bases for Colin Montez. Montez battled back from a 1-2 count and worked an eight-pitch RBI walk to put WSU on the board. Jacob McKeon and Jake Meyer proceeded to plate two with back-to-back RBI singles and all of a sudden, it was a one-run game.

The single-run deficit lasted just one pitch as Kyle Russell roped a fastball that was left over the middle of the plate for a line drive over the leaping third baseman to score Montez and McKeon and hand WSU a 5-4 lead.

Back-to-back doubles to open the top half of the fourth chased off Arizona’s starter TJ Nichols (4-2, 3.57 ERA) after just three innings of work. Smith moved the runners around with a single to score Kolden and move Hainline to third. Montez picked up his second RBI of the day without recording an official at-bat with a sac-fly to score Hainline. With two outs, Meyer punched an inside pitch into the right-center gap to score Smith from second and push the lead to 8-4.

With McMillan starting to find a groove, the Cougar offense continued to pick him up. Hainline picked up a two-out RBI single to score Justin Van De Brake in the top half of the fifth to give McMillan a five-run cushion. After working another scoreless fifth, the Cougar offense again rewarded McMillan for his perseverance with a two-RBI Van De Brake single with the bases loaded to give WSU their 11th straight unanswered run.

The Cats finally strung some hits together off McMillan in the sixth. A lead-off double followed by a two-out RBI double finally snapped the Wildcat drought and pulled Arizona within six. After losing Nik McClaughry to a hit-by-pitch after leading 0-2, Brian Green turned to Tyler Hoeft to relieve McMillan who, following his rough first inning, settled in and only allowed one run on four hits — half of those hits came in the sixth inning.

Hoeft put the Cougs on cruise control from there until the Wildcats threatened in the eighth. After getting the first two batters to K, Hoeft was lifted after giving up back-to-back singles. Caden Kaelber came on in relief and lost a nine-pitch battle to a walk to load the bases and turn the lineup back over to the Cats’ leadoff hitter, Bingham. With a chance to pull Arizona back in it, Kaelber got Bingham to groundout right back to him on a 2-1 count to end the Wildcat threat. Chase Grillo came in to close the door and sent the Wildcats down 1-2-3 in the ninth to give WSU their second win in 13 games, and a big one at that.

Game 2: WSU 6, Arizona 5

Riding high off their upset-win from Friday night and hungry for more, Montez gave the Cougs an early spark with a heads-up play, scoring off a dropped third strike in style.

With two runners in scoring position, Smith cashed in with a fielders choice to score Kolden and give the Cougars an early 2-0 lead. Arizona wouldn’t be held scoreless so easily. The Wildcats put together a two-out rally in the fourth, loading the bases for McClaughry. He rolled over into what looked to be an inning-ending, 6-4 putout, but Kolden’s throw to second was off the mark and got past Russell to score tie the game and extend the inning. Mistakes like that against the No. 9 team don’t go unpunished. Three straight singles cleared the remaining runners and scored one more to hand Arizona a 5-2 lead by the time fourth frame finally came to a close. All five runs were scored unearned.

The Cougars immediately answered with a trio of singles of their own, plating one and setting up Montez with one out and runners on the corners down two. Montez picked up another sac-fly to bring in Hainline and cut the lead to one. Grant Taylor (2-3, 3.43 ERA) continued to mow down the Wildcat lineup. Taylor finished the game with seven strong innings, giving up eight hits, five runs (all unearned), one walk and six strikeouts on 112 pitches. Despite Taylor’s heroic efforts, if WSU couldn’t string together some hits and push at least one across the plate before the bullpen was set to take over in the eighth, Taylor would be in line for a loss in which he didn’t allow a single earned run.

Montez reached second to begin in the inning after a throwing error from Arizona’s third baseman Tony Bullard. Montez scampered over to third following a wild pitch and came across to score on a Russell RBI single.

For the second straight game, the Cougar offense got their starting pitcher off the hook with a flurry of offense. The Cougs threatened for more with the bases loaded and two outs, but Holden Christian got Hainline swinging to keep the game even at five.

Grillo again came on in relief and kept Arizona’s five, six and seven hitters off the base paths in the eighth inning. With two outs in the ninth, Russell continued his dismantling of the Wildcats with a clutch line drive right back up the middle to score Hylan Hall from third and give WSU the late 6-5 lead. Grillo took the bump to shut the door on the Wildcats for the second straight game and did just that. Striking out two and getting Daniel Susac to fly out to center, just short of the warning track. The win clinched WSU’s first road-series win over a top-10 team since 2012.

Game 3: Arizona 5, WSU 2

WSU didn’t get the clutch hitting it was looking for early on in the game. The Cougs stranded two baserunners in both of the first two innings. A Cameron LaLiberte double, a McKabe Cottrell (1-6, 7.18 ERA) wild pitch followed by a fielders choice scored the first run of the game for Arizona in the bottom of the second. Cottrell’s day didn’t last much longer. A pair of walks followed by RBI singles from Garen Caulfield and Tyler Casagrande in the fourth ended Cottrell’s outing after 70 pitches in just 3.1 innings. Tyler Hoeft allowed one more run to score, credited to Cottrell, on a fielder’s choice before retiring Bingham to end the fourth inning with the Cats leading 4-0.

In the bottom half of the fifth, Susac didn’t leave the ball a few feet short this time, hammering a home run to left to extend the Wildcat lead to 5-0. The Cougar offense continued to drag its feet, struggling to get guys on and when they could get guys on, failing to capitalize.

With two outs in eighth and runners on second and third, thanks to a wild pitch, the Cougars finally broke through on a two-RBI single to center off the bat of Bryce Matthews to score Hainline and Montez, giving the Cougars some life down just three heading into the bottom half of the inning. In his third inning of work out of the bullpen, Cam Liss struck out the side, notching his strikeout total on the day to six, keeping WSU within three headed into the final frame.

Keith Jones II tried to spark the rally with a pinch-hit single, but the Cougars failed to keep the bats going with a groundout and flyout ending the game and allowing Arizona to avoid the sweep, 5-2.

After what’s been a miserable start to conference play, the Cougar baseball team has to be ecstatic that it not only picked up one win, but a series win on the road against a top-10 team in the nation. Hopefully the Cougars can keep the bats hot moving forward and continue to turn the ship around as they play host to the California Golden Bears at Bailey-Brayton Field for a three-game set beginning on Thursday.