COUGAR BASEBALL: BRING ON THE DAWGS

DONNIE MARBUT

ONE MORE WIN, and it would seem impossible to keep Washington State out of the NCAA baseball playoffs. One more loss, and Washington's post-season chances will vanish. Thus, the stakes are high when the Cougars and Huskies put a wrap on the regular season this weekend in Pullman.

Of course, you never need to add gas to the bonfire when Washington and Washington State square off in anything this side of tiddlywinks.

"The Huskies and Cougars are the Hatfields and McCoys," Cougar coach Donnie Marbut said. "It is what it is."

The Cougars may already be a lock for regionals, but they don't want to take any chances.

"Our kids want it bad, and they deserve it, they really do," Marbut said.

WSU is 28-23 overall and stands second in the Pac-10 at 16-8. The Cougars can't finish worse than tied for second if they win one of the three games with the Huskies.

It's hard to imagine the NCAA putting together a post-season lineup without the second-place team from a top conference like the Pac-10.

"We've got to come out against U-Dub and show them we're in second place for a reason," catcher Jay Ponciano said.

Washington (25-27, 13-11) needs a three-game sweep to post the winning overall record necessary to go to regionals. The Huskies may have sabotaged their post-season chances by losing Sunday and Monday at Arizona to fall into a fourth-place tie with Oregon State.

"We've still got a real regionals shot," Husky right fielder Kyle Conley insists.

"Anything is possible," Husky center fielder Caleb Brown said.

The Cougars hold an edge over Washington in most team statistics, but the Huskies have more power. Washington State has one of the national leaders in strikeouts and earned run average in Matt Way. Washington has one of the national leaders in home runs in Conley.

Washington State's leading hitter is senior catcher-designated hitter Greg Lagreid. His sore right shoulder continues to limit his ability to play in the field, but he's batting .360 despite going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in Tuesday night's 8-7 loss at Gonzaga.

Senior left fielder-DH Jake Rife leads Washington with a .331 average. Conley is hitting .325 with 19 home runs (second in the Pac-10) and 55 RBIs (third).

"I just like how much fear he puts into other teams when he's coming up to bat," Brown said.

The hottest hitter on the Cougars or Huskies is WSU senior right fielder Jared Prince of Poulsbo. The reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week collected three more hits Tuesday to boost his batting average to .342.

Way (8-4, 2.39) is scheduled to start on the mound Friday against fellow senior Jason Erickson (5-4, 4.41). Erickson, a right-hander, has won his last four decisions. Way, a left-hander, has won his last three starts.

Washington coach Ken Knutson has not named his other starting pitchers. WSU is expected to go with Chad Arnold (6-3, 5.10) on Saturday and David Stilley (3-2, 4.35) on Sunday. Stilley has struggled mightily in his last two outings.

WSU leads the all-time series with Washington 227-179. Since 1992, however, Washington leads 67-27, including 34-12 in Pullman. The Huskies have won six straight and 14 of 16 at Bailey-Brayton Field.

Game times this weekend are 5:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. There is no TV, but each school's athletic Web site broadcasts the games for a fee. WSUcougars.com also provides a slick GameTracker that allows you to follow the game at no cost.

NOTABLES:

  • The Cougars made one of the five -- yes, five -- Division I national polls for the first time this week. The Collegiate Baseball newspaper pegs WSU 27th.

  • WSU is 51st and Washington 115th in RPI (through Monday).

  • In the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday), Way ranked 14th in strikeouts (101 in 94 innings) and 17th in ERA. Conley was 21st in home runs.

  • Marbut said slugging first baseman-catcher Alex Burg is "doubtful" for the weekend as he continues to rebound from a knee injury.

  • The Huskies' Conley is tied for the UW career record of 42 home runs. He became good friends with Cougars Prince and Arnold last summer when they all played on the Newport (R.I.) Gulls. Conley is not related to former WSU baseball and basketball great Gene Conley (although both attended Richland High School) or WSU freshman pitcher Adam Conley. He is the nephew of former LPGA golfer Peggy Conley.

  • The Huskies' Rife was coached by former Seattle Mariners manager Mike Hargrove on the Liberal (Kan.) BeeJays last summer.
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