Cougar Baseball Notebook

PULLMAN -- Another week, another nationally ranked opponent for the Washington State baseball team. The Cougars, who may have salvaged their post-season dreams by rallying for a dramatic win over then-No. 24 UCLA last Sunday, take on No. 10 Arizona State this weekend in Tempe. "The Pac-10 is disgusting this year," WSU slugger Derek Jones said.

Derek Jones meant that in the nicest way possible. Six Pac-10 teams are ranked in the Top 25 of Baseball America magazine. WSU was ranked in early polls, but at 14-14 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-10, the Cougars are a few Jones home run bombs away from the Top 25.

The Cougars also seem light years removed from their stated goal of reaching the College World Series for the first time since 1976. However, Jones points out that the Cougars started out 3-6 in Pac-10 play last season, but wound up making it to the NCAA regionals for the second straight year.

Jones labels the three-game series with Arizona State "very important" to WSU's post-season hopes. The Cougars beat ASU in a series for the first time last year, and the Sun Devils (22-9, 5-4 Pac-10) were swept by Oregon State last week -- the first Pac-10 sweep of ASU since 1999.

The Sun Devils, the three-time defending Pac-10 champs, may be feeling the affects of NCAA sanctions for rules violations that will keep Arizona State out of post-season play this season.

Still, ASU stands 16th in the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday) with a .317 batting average and .977 fielding percentage, and a solid 57th in earned run average at 3.47. WSU was 164th in hitting (.276), 155th in fielding (.963) and 232nd in ERA (5.52) among 292 teams.

"Talent-wise," Jones said, "we're not on the level of some teams, and we're going to have to scrap out some wins."

The Cougars did just that the last two times out.

Jones tripled and scored on a single by freshman Jason Monda to cap a three-run ninth inning in Sunday's 3-2 win over UCLA, and Jones blasted his team-leading fifth home run Tuesday in a 3-1 victory over Gonzaga, another Top 25 team.

The Bulldogs, 19-10-1 and ranked 23rd by Collegiate Baseball, are 0-3 against WSU this season.

The UCLA game marked the 44th time the Cougars have come from behind to win over the past 2 ½ seasons. Coach Donnie Marbut believes WSU may have led the nation last year with 20 come-from-behind wins.

"It's kind of nice to see a lot of comeback wins," Jones said, "but it's also nice to get ahead. It's kind of saying we were a little lackadaisical in the first half of the game, then we kind of pick it up towards the second half."

Jones says he "definitely" agrees with Marbut that WSU's oft-praised intensity has waned at times this season.

"We just thought we could show up a little bit and win some ball games," Jones said. "We kind of got away from the basics to what got us to this point in our program. I think we're starting to get back to the things that worked for WSU baseball, the whole mentality set, because we know the ability and the talent is all there."

Jones added, "We're one of the toughest teams in the country, I'll bet that. All the crap we play in, all the stuff we deal with; we get nothing handed to us. That's why we're a comeback team. We're scrappy."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • WarrenNolan.com ranks WSU's schedule the ninth toughest in the country. Arizona State's schedule ranks sixth. The March 29 game with Gonzaga was the only one of the past 15 WSU games that did not involve a then-Top 25 team.

  • The Friday and Saturday games at ASU start at 6:30 p.m. Sunday's game is set for 12:30 p.m. No TV or webcast is available.

  • Jones, a junior right fielder, led the Cougars with 12 home runs each of the past two seasons. He's on a similar pace despite the switch to "deader" metal bats due to the NCAA's safety concerns. Jones said "everyone was pouting" when the new bats were introduced last fall, but he says, "Obviously, the game is a little more truer now. It's a little more focused on pitching and defense. Little things start to show up."

  • Paris Shewey pitched two shutout innings to earn the win Sunday, then picked up his league-leading sixth save by throwing a scoreless ninth inning Tuesday.

  • Freshman J.D. Leckenby (0-0, 0.98 in 11 games) tossed 5 1-3 innings of hitless, shutout relief the past two games.

  • Speedy center fielder Kyle Johnson returned to action Tuesday. He missed five weeks with a fractured wrist.

  • In Pac-10 games, WSU is batting .202 and has been outscored 63-26.

  • Cougfan Top Stories