Ninth place and a 5-13 league record may not be cause for headlines, but the Cougars have the same number of Pac-10 wins as eighth-place Oregon. That's significant, because eight Pac-10 teams played in the NCAA tournament last year, and the Pac-10 is loaded once again.
"Hopefully, the selection committee will like what we've done in the later half of the season," WSU third baseman Matt Argyropoulos said.
Ten of WSU's next 11 games are home contests, and none of the 15 remaining games involve Top 25 opponents. The Cougars have one-third (nine games) of the Pac-10 season left.
"If we get a couple more five-game win streaks down the road, it gives us a chance to keep breathing and staying alive," coach Donnie Marbut said.
If the 19-20 Cougars wind up one game short in their bid for a third straight NCAA appearance, they'll be kicking themselves for losing Sunday before 853 sun-kissed spectators at Bailey-Brayton Field.
The Cougars chased Washington starter Austin Voth after two innings, led 3-1 after three innings, then pulled within one run in the bottom of the ninth when redshirt freshman Adam Nelubowich sliced a pinch-hit, two-run double down the left-field line.
Washington freshman Tyler Kane came on in relief to face senior shortstop Cody Bartlett, WSU's leading hitter. Bartlett worked the count to 2-and-0, then pulled a hard-hit grounder down the third-base line. Troy Scott speared the ball behind third and, after making his third throwing error of the game earlier in the inning, fired a perfect one-hop throw off the artificial turf to first base to end the game.
"If we play better defense today and do things a little bit differently, five runs should have been enough to win the game. But things happen," said Argyropoulos, who was erased on a double play after ripping the first pitch of the ninth inning for a single. "We did fight to come back. We just didn't have quite enough to get it done."
The Cougars' only error came in the first inning and did not cause any damage. However, some catchable fly balls -- tough plays, but catchable -- fell untouched in the outfield. Also, Washington stole second three times in as many tries. The Huskies ranked among the worst teams in the nation coming into the day with just 12 steals in 28 attempts.
The young, rebuilding Huskies (13-27, 4-11) did what they could to help the Cougars stay in the game. The Huskies made four errors and left 13 men on base, and two others were tagged out while trying to score in the seventh inning.Washington did outhit WSU 15-8 -- sophomore left fielder Joe Meggs, the son of coach Lindsay Meggs, had his fourth straight three-hit game -- and freshmen Willy Reel, Spencer Rogers and Ryan Wiggins delivered key hits in the final three innings. Crafty senior Jacob Clem relieved Voth and retired 13 consecutive batters at one point before making way for Kane, who recorded his first save.
"Credit to Clem," Marbut said. "He shut us down for four or five innings."
"We just didn't adjust and make sure we hit the bottom half of the ball," Argyropoulos said. "I can't count how many times we just hit choppers to the infield."
Still, the Cougars have won five of six, and upperclassmen like Argyropoulos and fellow senior Paris Shewey have been key contributors down the stretch.
"It's a good time in the dugout right now," Shewey said. "Everyone's energized. Everyone's into it. "I think it speaks volumes to what kind of coaching staff we have to just stay with us and to what kind of team we are to just respond to that and get back into it."