Though spring is still a few weeks away on most calendars, Washington State baseball (1-3) began their season this past weekend down in sunny southern California. The Cougs took on the No. 1 ranked Cal State Fullerton (1-2) Titans on their home field in a typical three-game series.
WSU stumbled weakly through the first game of the set with CSUF, eventually falling in a one-sided affair 12-0 in the Friday night season opener for both ball clubs. Normally a strong offensive force year-in-year-out under the leadership of head coach Donnie Marbut, the Cougs managed just 3-hits in nine innings.
With a good night of rest and the opportunity to regroup, WSU bounced back Saturday afternoon to earn an extra-inning victory 9-7 over the Titans. Tanner Chleborad showed why he has been a Friday-Night starter in the past, going 5-innings and giving up just one earned run. Cougar bats warmed up as well, accumulating 15-hits including a game winning single by slugger Jason Monda in the top of the 11th.
In the rubber game of the series on Sunday afternoon, WSU came back to tie the ball game 4-4 with a run in the top of the 9th. The Titans proved why they are the team to beat this season, earning the victory in the bottom of the 9th with a one-out single to plate the winning tally.
“That’s a Super Regional type three-game series,” Coach Marbut said before boarding a bus heading out to Riverside. “Our guys played great against a great team.”
President’s Day presented a chance for the Cougs to get in an extra game on the swing through SoCal. WSU traveled about 40 miles east to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.
Despite sloppy play in the field, UCR got a fine performance from Zach Verla who went 7 2/3 innings for the win. Verla was a dominating pitcher last year going 5-0 with a minuscule 1.8 ERA.
Jason Monda started for the Cougs and was outstanding over the first three innings, giving up just 2-unearned runs. But the WSU bullpen let the game get out of hand after Cougar bats produced a 5-2 lead going into the home half of the 4th. UCR went on to plate 7-runs in the 4th and 5th and take control of things.
There were plenty of positives to take away from the opening weekend trip for Washington State. After facing some great pitching, WSU has four players hitting over .300 led by Nick Tanielu at .438. And the Cougs got some fine pitching from Chelboard, Monda along with a nice power performance from Sean Hartnett. Harnett struck out six of the fourteen opponents he faced while not allowing a single earned run.
Surprisingly, the team is hitting just .257. There are too many solid bats on the WSU roster to think that trend will continue. Failing to pop a single home run over the first four games has to be a concern for Donnie Marbut.
It’s early in the 2014 schedule and baseball is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint.
Next up for Washington State is a four-game series with Western Carolina at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman. The Catamounts were 39-20 last season and have opened up 1-2 this year. Opening pitch Friday is scheduled for 6pm.