Cougar Baseball Notebook: Now or never?

WITH 12 GAMES to go, the Cougs are 20-22 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-10 (tied for eighth). Thanks to a rugged schedule, the Cougars are 46th in RPI (seventh in the Pac-10). Eight Pac-10 teams, including Washington State, advanced to the 64-team NCAA tourney last year. But the Cougars might need to win at least two of three games against Arizona (30-16, 9-9) just to keep their tourney dreams alive.

The NCAA altered rules to force baseball teams to use less explosive bats this season. Someone forgot to send the memo to the Arizona Wildcats.

The Wildcats, swinging some of the hottest bats in the country, hope to use those bats to effectively knock Washington State out of post-season contention this weekend.

Winning even one game against the Wildcats won't be easy. Arizona is 25th in RPI, has outscored opponents 65-18 during a six-game winning streak and ranked third in the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday) with a .329 batting average.

The Cougars have struggled to score runs in the Pac-10 all season, and they rank last in the league in earned run average (4.88) and errors (51). WSU's .267 batting average ranks 223rd among 292 Division I teams.

WSU will also play shorthanded this weekend. Freshman left fielder Jason Monda remains sidelined with mononucleosis, and senior catcher Jay Ponciano is expected to see limited action the rest of the season due to a lingering shoulder injury.

Freshman Collin Slaybaugh, who is now WSU's starting catcher, said "guys trying to press a lot has probably" had something to do with the Cougars' disappointing season. WSU has lost three of four.

"We just need to come out with passion every game, every pitch," Slaybaugh said, "because every pitch does matter."

WSU coach Donnie Marbut couldn't agree more. Marbut has grumbled about his club's intensity and passion on a number of occasions, and he again criticized himself after the Cougars dropped two of three to UNLV last weekend.

"I've failed this team," Marbut said. "I've failed the Cougar fans. I've failed our staff. It's my job to make sure we play hard and we're prepared to play. We obviously weren't prepared to play the entire weekend. We don't play hard enough and we're not passionate enough."

Instead of the usual Friday-through-Saturday schedule, the Cougars and Wildcats will square off Saturday, Sunday and Monday due to final exams at Arizona.

The Wildcats have been a Top 25 team most of the season, but they're currently ranked no higher than 26th. Earlier this week, center fielder Joey Rickard was second in the Pac-10 in hitting at .390; right fielder Robert Refsnyder led the league with 44 RBIs; second baseman Bryce Ortega led in stolen bases with 19; and pitcher Kurt Heyer (7-3, 2.45) was second in the conference and third in Division I with 108 strikeouts.

The Cougars' Monday game at Portland was postponed due to a wet field, so the Pilots' visit to Pullman next Tuesday has been turned into a doubleheader.

A 16-game homestand ends May 20-22 with the final home games of the season against Oregon. The Cougars play Washington in a non-league game in Pasco on May 24, then finish the regular season at USC May 27-29.

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