Cougar baseball: Marty Lees wants tighter D, pitching

WASHINGTON STATE’s eight-game road trip to open the baseball season was like time in the lab, with first-year coach Marty Lees discerning two areas in particular in need of sharpening up.

“We took some things from both series that we feel we can learn from,” was Lees' assessment in his Monday presser of WSU’s 3-5 start. “We were in virtually every ball game but we need to tighten up some of the things we do on the mound and defensively.”

For the Cougars to be competitive in the Pac-12 this season, they must improve on last season's league-low batting average of .239. It’s early and the competition will only get tougher, but the WSU offense has stepped it up a notch in hitting .279 through eight games.

Leading the way have been the bats of fourth-year junior Trek Stemp and second-year sophomore Derek Chapman, off to hot starts hitting .500 and .421, respectively.

“Both had two fabulous, great, exciting weekends,” said Lees. “They brought energy to the game that is what you have to have to set a standard for playing here.”

Lees also gave a nod to one of the guys he’s counting on as a team leader both on and off the field.

Patrick McGrath had a very good eight-game series. For a guy who hadn’t played much until now, his senior year. He had very good approaches at the plate. He’s very competitive,” said Lees.

Naturally, every coach aspires to assemble a batting order that is solid from top to bottom.

Dugan Shirer ...really started hitting the ball from the 9-hole and did a really good job…of being able to bunt, steal some bases and play a very good center field,” said Lees.

When evaluating the overall early picture, Lees pointed out where WSU is in the process of coming together as a team.

“The most encouraging thing is we got to see everybody play,” said Lees. “We came away with things we need to do better as a team, we need to do individually and being able to attack. The offense is starting to come around and connect in ways I hope it would.”

Lees sounded far from satisfied, however.

“We need to get consistent in all facets of the game. We can’t have where we’re not putting the ball in play, not making plays or not making pitches. You can’t have two-thirds of those and expect to win games. You might win here or there by playing less-than-great defense. If you’re going to be consistent at this level, in this league, you need to do all three of those things every day,” said Lees.

Lees is proud of the fact he’s a student of the game. An aggressive style of offense and defense are trademarks of Oregon State and Oklahoma State where the Cougar head man earned his spurs as an assistant coach. He plans to impart that winning formula in Pullman.

“I feel like we’re putting kids in the right situations and we’re going to continue to press in everything we do. That’s how we want to play. We have a team that can do it and once they put their minds to it, and they are,” said Lees.

This is not only Lees’ first year at Washington State, it’s the first time he’s put on a head coach’s uniform. When talking about being a skipper instead of an assistant, Lees was quick to harken back to his time with Oklahoma State.  “I talked to Coach (Josh) Holliday a lot. He was a guy I could look to when I was third base (coaching). He’d watch everything that was happening ...and he’d have suggestions,” said Lees.

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