The Cougars, down to their last strike Sunday in a game that could have eliminated them from consideration for the NCAA tournament, capped Senior Day in storybook fashion with an 8-7 victory over Oregon.
After fouling off two full-count pitches by flame-throwing relief pitcher Madison Boer, senior third baseman Matt Argyropoulos blasted a towering shot to deep center field with two out in the bottom of the ninth to drive in Adam Nelubowich with the winning run.
“It was awesome,” Argyropoulos summed up.
Moments earlier, Nelubowich had tied the game with a ringing RBI double to right field with two out. Nelubowich’s clutch hit marked the fourth time in the afternoon the Cougars had rallied to tie or go ahead of the Ducks.
“We’re pretty demoralized,” Oregon star Danny Pulpher mumbled.
Speak for yourself, Danny. Thanks to their 11th come-from-behind win of the season, and the 100th such victory in Donnie Marbut’s seven years as coach, the Cougars might still be in the hunt for a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament as they prepare for their final four regular-season games.
“I think if you win your last four, you get in,” Marbut said.
“I would say that if you win your last four, you probably get in.”
Marbut paused again.
“Maybe you can win three and get in. I don’t know.”
That last sentence is just about the only thing that Marbut and the Cougars know for certain besides the fact that they play Washington in a nonleague game at Pasco on Tuesday night, then visit USC for three games next weekend.
“I think winning these last four games on the road will show we deserve to be there,” Argyropoulos said.
Argyropoulos was an unlikely hero Sunday. The Longview native has tailed off dramatically at the plate after a sensational start. He was 2-for-26 in eight games before he made certain the Cougars won in their final at-bat for the fourth time this year.
“It’s a good way to win a game,” Marbut understated. “It’s always nice to see that senior drive in one to win a game.
“I was really happy for our club, but really happy for Matt, too.”
No one seems to have any official proof, but Marbut likes to say that he believes the Cougars led the nation in come-from-behind wins last season.
“We never give up,” Argyropoulos said.
“You credit your club and you’re glad that they can do that,” Marbut said, “but the coaching part, you’ve got to look back and say, ‘Why are we down?’ But it doesn’t matter how you win it. You’ve just got to score one more than the other team.”
The Cougars (24-26, 8-16 Pac-10), tied for eighth with Oregon, are 2-1 against last-place Washington (16-32, 6-18).
The Cougars and USC have yet to meet this season. The Trojans (22-19, 12-12) are tied for fifth with Arizona and Stanford after knocking off second-ranked and league-leading Oregon State the past two days.
Marbut said talented freshman outfielder Jason Monda (mononucleosis) may return to action Tuesday. Marbut said senior starting pitcher Chad Arnold (arm) may be ready for USC after sitting out the weekend. However, Marbut said senior starting catcher Jay Ponciano (shoulder) is done for the year.
WSU first baseman Taylor Ard singled to start the ninth-inning rally Sunday and finished 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI. He leads the Pac-10 with 50 RBIs.
WSU right fielder Derek Jones blasted a two-run homer in the first inning to tie Ard for the Pac-10 lead with eight home runs. Jones ranks eighth in WSU history with 32 career homers. The junior needs just one more to equal the 33 homers that John Olerud hit in his three years with the Cougars.
Freshman J.D. Leckenby, a key relief pitcher for the Cougs, rested a sore shoulder during the Oregon series.
WSU is 8-4 in one-run games. Oregon is 5-12.
Only a few fans took advantage of the opportunity to bring a dog to Sunday’s game, which marked the end of a school-record 16-game homestand.