This week in Cougar baseball

FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE, what the Cougar baseball teams need most is simply a win, by any means possible. The Cougs are 1-8 in Pac-12 play as they travel to play a California team that has gone 7-2 against conference foes. Even more menacing is the fact that the Golden Bears are one of the most formidable offensive squads in the Pac-12.

The WSU pitching staff figures to have their hands full at Cal. The Cougars are in the bottom third of the conference in several pitching categories, with a team ERA of 4.46 and allowing opponents to hit .266 on the season. If you're looking for good news, they have only given up nine home runs, tied for the fourth-best in the conference.

But the WSU bats haven't helped. Veteran infielder Ian Sagdal (pictured above) has been the exception, the only Cougar with a batting average above .300. He leads the team with 29 hits, 17 RBIs, seven doubles, 16 run, and a .436 slugging percentage.

Head man Donnie Marbut feels good about Washington State's chances of snapping out of their losing ways. He said in this week's presser the Cougs have been practicing well and taking care of business in the weight room -- so the dedication is there.

"I'm very confident we're going to play well every time that we go out and play. We haven't played horrible, we haven't played great, but (what) explains things to these kids a lot is that playing good doesn't cut it," Marbut said Tuesday in a press conference. "Playing okay doesn't cut it, not in our conference. You've got to play great to win."

The week ahead: Cal is 20-7 on the season in arguably the most competitive and balanced conference in the nation. The Golden Bears have won all three of their Pac-12 series this season and at 7-2, they're tied for second in the Pac-12 standings.

Meanwhile, WSU comes in on a nine-game losing streak that includes eight of nine conference games -- and get this, the Cougs have managed four runs only once over that stretch. Indeed, WSU has averaged just 1.78 runs per game in nine conference games.

The Golden Bears has nearly doubled up the competition in scoring, 186-92 this season. Part of that equation is pitching, too. More than half of Cal's pitching staff owns ERA's under 3.00.

Cal brings power to the plate, just like the Cougars' last Pac-12 opponent, UCLA. Entering the week, the Golden Bears led the Pac-12 in home runs with 30, UCLA was in third place with 21. Cal has three players who have hit at least six home runs each this season. Washington State collectively has five dingers on the season.

"They're showing more power than a lot of teams in the conference too. They're not giving up homers and they're hitting them. That's always a good combination for a team," Marbut said.

Cal's best hitter, sophomore Lucas Erceg, is truly a utility man. In addition to batting .383, he also pitches for the team, although he doesn't belong to the majority that has sub-3.00 ERA's.

However, Erceg excels in virtually every offensive category, leading the team in hits (41), home runs (8), and slugging percentage (.692). The sophomore has started all 27 games.

Marbut made it a point to praise Cal's pitching. They own the league's third-best ERA and opponent batting average allowed. Dylan Nelson has four saves in 10 appearances, and has allowed only one earned run in 15 2/3 innings. He has 22 strikeouts compared to six walks.

The series begins on Thursday at 7 p.m. The teams play again on Friday at 7 p.m., and finish up on Saturday with a 1 p.m. matchup. None of the games are televised.

  • The Cougars lost their ninth game in a row to Gonzaga on Tuesday night by a score of 5-4. Sagdal notched a season-high four hits.

  • WSU swept Cal in three games last season.

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