Bottom line: The Cougars lost to a team that started four freshmen to their one. WSU left 11 men on base, including five at third base. The Cougar relief pitcher who imploded in the eighth inning is a redshirt junior. The Razorback right fielder who almost certainly prevented a lopsided WSU victory by making a miraculous catch in the seventh inning is a freshman.
All that is history. The Cougars have less than 24 hours to recover mentally and physically from Friday's bizarre 10-3 loss to Arkansas, because one more loss at the Norman Regional ends WSU's season. Washington State plays Saturday at 11 a.m. PDT against unranked Wichita State, who lost to No. 9-ranked Oklahoma in the late game Friday.
The 24th-ranked Cougars have demonstrated uncommon resiliency this season, but they'll have to dig even deeper into their fire-and-brimstone war chest if they are to rebound from Friday's disaster.
To summarize: WSU spotted Arkansas a run in the first inning, then opened the third inning with four straight singles to take a 2-1 lead. The Cougars expanded their lead to 3-1 when Shea Vucinich led off the seventh with a triple and scored, but WSU left the bases loaded that inning when right fielder Jarrod McKinney made a spectacular, diving catch of a slicing Matt Fanelli drive that carried to the warning track.
"If we don't catch that ball," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, "they're going to score three runs, we're down 6-1 and it's probably over."
Instead, Arkansas was very much alive, and WSU pitching standout Matt Way did not go back out for the seventh inning due to tightness in his left (throwing) forearm. Freshman Adam Conley continued his excellent relief work of late by throwing a 1-2-3 seventh, but when Ben Tschepikow doubled down the right-field line on Conley's first pitch in the eighth, the Cougars did the sensible thing and brought in relief ace Jeremy Johnson.
Johnson, who has rather routinely pitched two or more innings, quickly retired Arkansas batting leader Scott Lyons for out No. 1 … then endured an inning that was probably like none other in his life.
First, Andy Wilkins battled Johnson for nine pitches before lacing a 3-2 fastball to right-center for an RBI single. Wilkins moved to third on a single by freshman Bo Bigham -- who made his 10th start of the year only because Lyons' battered pinkie prevented him from playing in the field -- and Wilkins then scored the tying urn on a perfectly executed safety suicide squeeze bunt by McKinney.
The Cougars got a break when freshman Zack Cox's hard-hit one-hopper went right to Vucinich at shortstop. Vucinich made the long to first for the third out … only to have his high throw go off the tip of Fanelli's mitt.
After some debate, the error was given to Vucinich. Whatever. Soon it didn't matter, because the Razorbacks rattled off a bloop single, a bunt single, a hit batter, a double, a two-run single by Tschepikow … and then, after Johnson was mercifully pulled, Lyons hammered James Wise's first pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.
The Cougars said all the right things afterwards at the press conference ("It's just one game" … "It's not the first time it's happened" … "That's baseball"), and Johnson scored points by showing up at the media's request. Alas, the moderator ended the press conference with no warning, so Johnson was able to escape before he was asked a question.
It was just about the only thing that went right for Johnson all afternoon.
Saturday's Wichita State-WSU game at 11 a.m. isn't being televised but it is available via webcast live, for free, HERE. Also, KXLY 700 AM of Spokane and KQQQ 1150 AM of Pullman will also broadcast the game. The WSU radio feed is available for free at www.wsucougars.com and an electronic GameTracker is also available there at no charge.
KEEP THE BALL ROLLING:
To help keep the Cougs coming back to the post-season, WSU is encouraging alums and supporters to donate to the Athletic Director's Fund for Baseball Excellence. Click HERE to contribute.