A uniquely timed Q&A with Donnie Marbut

IMMEDIATELY BEFORE Bill Moos gave Donnie Marbut his pink slip Tuesday, the Cougar baseball coach was talking with Cougfan.com for a state-of-the-program Q&A. Marbut was upbeat, energetic and candid. Unless the 11-year Washington State head man possesses an upper lip made of granite, his demeanor throughout suggests Moos sacked him with the biggest blindside since D.D. Acholonu roamed the Palouse.

Indeed, literally minutes before being summoned to Moos' office for his walking papers, Marbut talked with CF.C in a wide-ranging interview that painted the picture of a coach excited about the outlook of his program. The youth of the Cougar team that just completed a better-than-expected season, and the leadership his seniors offered those young guns, had Marbut in high spirits as he talked about 2015 and looked ahead to 2016.

Here are the highlights from Marbut's last interview as the Cougars' coach:

CF.C: What prevented this team from getting into the post season?

MARBUT: We were probably four or five games out ... Out of our last 11 games, we had five in extra innings. We weren't deep enough, we couldn't score enough runs, we were probably just a little too youthful to make that happen. We didn't have a third starter so we just aren't good enough yet. We're going to be, just not good enough yet.

CF.C: Talk about the youth on the team.

MARBUT: I think they're (the freshmen) probably the best class we've brought in in a long time and I think the next class might even be better. We didn't project a freshman (Jack Strunc) to play shortstop and a freshman Shane Mathenyto play third base. We projected a senior to play short and a junior to play third, and they (Strunc and Matheny) just beat them out.

CF.C: Matheny had an up-and-down first year. What's his potential?

MARBUT If you're just a fan but don't watch the game, you wouldn't be impressed with his numbers ... he made some errors and he hit a little over .200. He's going to be a star. He's got a chance to be a big-leaguer one day. I think he's going to be an All-Pac-12 guy ... The thing that impressed me the most about Shane was, when he did have struggles, he always was really mature about it. He's a workman-like guy, he's very non-emotional, and he's flat-lined a little bit. That's a really good personality for a baseball player in general. Just his professionalism and his maturity really showed me a lot.

CF.C: You mentioned this incoming recruiting class is even better than your 2015 class. How so?

MARBUT: I think college baseball, and baseball in general, is won on pitching. We had some freshmen this year give us some nice contributions, but we have a lot bigger group of arms coming in. We probably have the best freshman pitching, the best high-school recruiting pitching class we've ever brought in.
It's a pitching-dominated class, even though we have some position players that we really like, no question about it. It's better on the mound than we've ever had.

CF.C: Talk about the role your seniors played this season.

MARBUT: On the pitching staff, I think you've got to start with Joe Pistorese. Joe has been such a competitor over his entire career but I thought this year, not only did he compete at his highest level, he brought out the best in other players. What happens is, when you're a really good player, you make everybody else around you better. I think his competitive nature and his willing to fight and not come out of games, rubbed off on players for sure. Sean Hartnett had a solid year. He spent a lot of innings out there. Sam Triece was just really consistent out of the bullpen. He was really an unsung guy. When you're a middle-inning guy, you're not the starter and you're not the closer so you don't get a lot of love. He was outstanding for us.
On the offensive side, I think you start with P.J. Jones, where P.J. didn't have the greatest offensive numbers, but he was a fantastic defender ... The game is so much more than offense and P.J. was as good a defensive catcher as anybody in the conference. I think he was the only catcher in our conference that called his own game, so there was a lot of pressure on him and he did a really nice job of that. Ian Sagdal showed some consistency throughout the year and showed the guys that even if they were never where they wanted to be, in their senior year they can make it happen. I thought Ben Roberts was a really good role model for our guys .. He had the worst early part of the season. He really turned it on in Pac-12 play. Ben can show the younger guys that it's not how you start, but it's how you finish.
I think all six of those guys did a little something to give back to the program. Not just winning games, but showing guys that they all had six different types of careers. There's a different guy on our team that can benefit from watching one of those guys, and they might see themselves as being one of those guys.

CF.C: How do you motivate players?

MARBUT: We try to get our guys to play in the absence of fear, and you're trying to get these guys to just expect to win. I think if you have to constantly motivate your players, I think you've got the wrong players. You've got to get the guys who are highly motivated. I think our young guys, in turn, were highly motivated. Our job is to get the best out of the players, to make them compete at the highest level in the highest conference.

CF.C: How do you avoid sophomore slumps for all of these 2015 freshmen?

MARBUT: Usually the slumps are junior slumps in baseball because they're worried about the draft. It's usually not the sophomore year. We have more kids playing this summer than we ever have. We only have one kid at home, one of our top freshmen who nobody really knows about. That's Nick Leonard. He only pitched a little bit for us this year but he was hurt. We already have guys who are already gone (to summer ball). My thought is that it's not so much about the sophomore slump, it's more about the junior year. I think we've got some really good, motivated players ... When it comes to slumps in baseball, I don't know how you stop those. If I did, I would be a multi-millionaire!
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