JONES AND PRINCE came up with big blasts
NORMAN, Okla. -- When Donnie Marbut preaches the gospel of baseball to his players, the Washington State coach stresses that anything can happen. Anytime, anywhere. Saturday’s game at the Norman Regional will stand up as Exhibit A in Marbut’s testimony. The Cougars, playing Wichita State in a loser-go-home-and-pout-all-summer contest, were trailing 1-0 after five innings and looking bad doing so.
Shocker freshman Jordan Cooper had allowed just one hit, and the only thing cooling off fans in the 90-degree heat was the windstorm created by all the swings and misses of Cougar batters.
Then, out of nowhere: Boom!
Freshman Derek Jones, hitless in his previous 17 at-bats, launched a two-run homer 400-plus feet to right.
One pitch later: Boom!
Senior Jared Prince, anointed “Mr. Cougar” because of his dedication and appreciation for all things crimson, hammered another homer 400-plus feet. This one rocketed so far, so fast over the left-field wall that Shocker left fielder Bret Bascue barely made the pretense of moving.
Final score: Washington State 3, Wichita State 2.
The Cougars post their 17th come-from-behind win of the year, and Pastor Marbut gives thanks to the baseball gods.
“Baseball -- when you think about it, it’s a crazy game,” Marbut concluded.
The Cougars must win two games Sunday and another one Monday to keep their season alive. Good luck on finding enough pitching, but on Saturday, Washington State players, fans and coaches permitted themselves a moment or three to bask in the afterglow of the school’s first NCAA post-season baseball victory in 19 years.
IT IS IRONIC that a game decided by home runs was dominated by pitching. Cougar redshirt sophomore Chad Arnold saved his best college performance for what may be his final college performance -- he’s talking about turning pro, and the scouts behind home plate had to love what they saw Saturday -- and Cooper may have been even better.
Two big, hard-throwing right-handers mixed pitches and speeds masterfully and had spot-on control. Arnold posted career highs of 10 strikeouts and 7 1/3 innings and allowed just six hits and three walks. Cooper tossed a three-hitter and tied a career high with 10 strikeouts. He walked just one in an eight-inning complete game (the Cougars were the home team).
“Two great starts by two real good pitchers,” Marbut summed up.
The relief pitching wasn’t too shabby either. Marbut and pitching coach Gregg Swenson left Arnold in after he gave up a leadoff homer to Ryan Jones in the eighth, but when Arnold’s control wavered later in the inning, Adam Conley and Connor Lambert each came on to get an out to set up the ninth for closer Jeremy Johnson.
JOHNSON, SO GOOD for so long this season before an epic meltdown in Friday’s regional opener with Arkansas, displayed his customary calm and hard, harder and hardest stuff.
He gave up a single and benefited from two great plays on a hard-hit groundball -- shortstop Shea Vucinich made a tough catch and throw from the edge of the grass, and first baseman Alex Burg scooped the one-hop throw expertly -- but it was more than enough for Johnson’s 10th save of the year.
“He is one of the biggest reasons why we are here,” Marbut said.
After the game, Swenson held Johnson tight atop the mound at Dale Mitchell Park. We all need a hug sometimes.
The third-seeded Cougars (32-24) return to action at 11 a.m. PDT Sunday against the loser of Saturday night’s game between top-seeded Oklahoma and second-seeded Arkansas. The Saturday night and Sunday afternoon winners square off at 5 p.m. Sunday. If both teams are left with one loss after the Sunday night game, they’ll meet again at 5 p.m. Monday to decide who moves on to one of the eight Super Regionals.
HOW TO WATCH, LISTEN:
Freshman David Stilley (3-2, 4.47), who has struggled of late, is WSU’s scheduled starter in Sunday’s first game. The contest 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.
JONES' POWER NUMBERS:
Jones, who leads the Cougars in home runs, tied the freshman school record of 12. Jason Grove set the record in 1998, and Stefan Baille tied it in 2000. Jones had not homered since May 1. “I’ve been kind of feeling the pressure to perform,” said Jones, who his hitting just .227. “I was like, ‘Come on; I have to do this.’ I finally got a pitch and I put a good swing on it and it changed the ball game. No matter how old you are, you have to step up.”
Jones golfed a low, inside breaking ball for his home run. “I thought it was a good pitch,” Cooper said. “He must have been sitting on it.” Jones said, “No, I wasn’t sitting on it. Things just happen. You’ve got to look fastball and adjust.”
Prince went up looking for a fastball after Jones went yard, and Cooper obliged with one of the few fat pitches he threw all day. “I didn’t miss it,” Prince understated. “I tip my hat to that pitcher for Wichita. He did a great job.”
Prince also had considerable praise for Arnold, who said the heat didn’t bother him thanks to the summer heat back home in Kennewick. When Arnold followed his second walk of the game with two straight balls to the next batter (Arnold was charged with the walk after Conley threw two more balls), Swenson gave Arnold the hook. “He just told me he was proud of me,” Arnold said. “He thought I did well.” Did Arnold think it was his best game in college? “Absolutely,” he said.
Burg made his first start since injuring a knee April 25. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .346. The senior’s only other action since he was hurt came in a pinch-hit appearance last Sunday against Washington.
WAS OZZIE IN NORMAN TODAY?
Vucinich provided some unexpected entertainment for the 1,498 spectators when he turned back flips -- remember shortstop Ozzie Smith? -- as he ran on to the field at the start of the game. Vucinich usually reserves the back flips for the occasional home game. “I did 10 years of gymnastics growing up,” Vucinich explained. “Ever since my teammates found out, they always have me do it. I’m not a big fan of it.” His coach, however, is a fan. Marbut said, “I love it. I wish he’d do it more often.”