BASEBALL: Do Cougs figure in postseason?

COLLIN SLAYBAUGH

THE WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS are banking on PerfectGame.org being perfectly accurate in its projections on the 64-team field for the NCAA baseball tournament.

The Cougars, hanging tough in a Pac-12 Conference loaded with five teams in Baseball America magazine's Top 25, are PG.org's pick to be the third seed in the four-team Gainesville (Fla.) Regional.

Baseball America and ESPN.com list Washington State among the bubble teams that will not make the tournament. The Cougars missed the tourney last year after cracking the field the two previous seasons.

The Cougars (22-18, 8-9 Pac-12) have 16 games left, starting with a three-game series this weekend against visiting California (23-18, 7-11). Seventh-place WSU, 1 1-2 games out of fourth place, and 10th-place Cal are tied for 73rd in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Freshman right-hander Tanner Chleborad (3-1, 3.60), coming off a tough 2-0 loss to then-No. 23 Arizona State, is expected to start tonight for the Cougars. Regular No. 1 starter J.D. Leckenby (4-4, 3.51) is questionable for the weekend after suffering a groin injury in last Friday's loss to ASU.

Game times are 7 o'clock tonight, 5:30 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday on graduation weekend. Anyone with a graduation program or tassel will receive $1 admission Saturday, and there will be a fireworks show after the game.

Right fielder Derek Jones and catcher Collin Slaybaugh received notable honors this week.

Jones, a senior out of Snohomish High School, is one of 60 players on the midseason Watch List for the Golden Spikes Award, presented annually to the U.S. amateur baseball player of the year.

Jones leads the Pac-12 with a .649 slugging percentage and is tied for second with teammate Taylor Ard with nine home runs. Jones leads WSU with a .358 batting average.

Slaybaugh, a sophomore who attended Emerald Ridge High in Puyallup, was named to the Capital One Academic All-District VIII team. Performances on the field and in the classroom are taken into consideration.

Slaybaugh, a movement studies major, carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average. He's batting .273 with no homers and six RBIs in 28 games.

In the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday), the Cougars led the nation in double plays per game at 1.28. Jones was 22nd in slugging percentage.

Ard, who lost a 17-game hitting streak last Friday, has lifted his batting average to .329 and his slugging percentage to .563. He's second to Jones on the Cougars in both stats, and Ard has replaced Jones as the team leader in hits (55-53).

The Cougars, who drew a sellout crowd of 3,714 for last year's "home" game with Washington in Pasco, return to Gesa Stadium on Tuesday to take on the Portland Pilots.

First pitch is set for 6 p.m.

"A Night With Cougar Baseball" will be held May 24 in Seattle, prior to WSU's regular season-ending series at Washington.

Festivities begin at 5 p.m. at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott. Silent and live auctions will be held. Proceeds from the event go toward WSU baseball facilities.

Big Jim Murphy has always offset his booming home runs with tons of strikeouts, but the former Cougar first baseman has made progress in his fifth season in pro ball.

Murphy, a Philadelphia Phillies farmhand, has four home runs and 21 strikeouts in 85 at bats with the Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers in the Class A Florida State League. Murphy's 21 RBIs (in 24 games) rank second in the league, and he's tied for fourth in homers and stands eighth in slugging percentage at .482.

Former Washington State shortstop Shea Vucinich is struggling in the FSL. The Milwaukee Brewers farmhand is batting just .200 for Brevard County (Fla.), with one home run and nine RBIs in 25 games.

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