Coming Thursday, WSU’s new baseball signing class

THE SCHEDULE this week for Cougar baseball is unusual, but there will be more team evolution at Washington State than just the preparation to face Pac-12 leading Utah.

“We’re going to announce our signing class Thursday,” said WSU skipper Marty Lees during his weekly press conference.

In advance of naming who has signed a letter of intent to play for WSU next season, Lees spoke to his top priority in evaluating prospects.


“You’ll see what we’re trying to do with (speed in the lineup). We’ve got a couple more kids just like Trek (Stemp) who have the ability to run, are very athletic and will add to the style of play we’d like to have here,” said Lees.

After a tough series at Oregon last weekend where Washington State (14-25, 7-14 Pac-12) dropped two out of three, this week is set up for players to focus on finals. The Cougs don’t return to the practice field in preparation for Pac-12 leader Utah (16-23, 11-7 Pac-12) until today.

The first two games of last weekend’s series with the Ducks were highlighted by outstanding pitching from each ball club. Damon Jones (0-0, 3.55 ERA) and Ryan Walker (6-2, 2.05 ERA) combined to hurl a 4-hit shutout for the 4-0 victory Friday night. WSU bats were silenced the next game leading to an 8-0 Oregon victory. Either team could have won the finale. WSU led 7-5 going into the the bottom of the 8th when the wheels came off. Oregon plated 6-runs and held on in the 9th for an 11-7 win.

Lees was encouraged by his starting pitching this past week.

“I was very excited for Damon Jones,” said Lees. “It was his third quality start for us. He’s really come out and commanded three pitches and gave us a chance to be good right from the beginning (Friday night). That’s something we’ve been searching for the entire year. On Sunday, Trenton Dupre (0-2, 6-05 ERA) gave us a great start.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Lees conceded he may have turned to his bullpen a little early bringing in southpaw Scotty Sunitsch (2-1, 5.76 ERA) to nail down the final out of the 4th to maintain what was then a 4-2 lead.

“We felt like it was the right decision at the time and it was.”

The quandary for Lees created by turning to Sunitsch that early was who would step up at the end with the game potentially on the line.

“We knew as it got later in the game it might be a little bit different as far as the guys throwing then to be winning.”

Lees has relied on Walker and Sunitsch to be his top performers out of the bullpen. Since Walker threw six impressive innings Friday night, it wasn’t likely he’d be ready to go again Sunday. Oregon tied the contest at 7-7 and had WSU on the ropes in the bottom of the 8th when they used a couple of two-out singles to put four runs on the board and complete the scoring for the series.

“The effort (last) Sunday was great. The attitude was great.  I did not feel like our kids gave up. They battled the whole time and that was important to me. Although we lost, the other parts (of the game) were good,” said Lees.

One of the offensive stars for Washington State last weekend was freshman catcher Ty Johnson (.381 overall, .395 Pac-12). All Johnson did was go 7 for 11 with a pair of RBI’s.

“He’s seeing the ball good,” said Lees. “Hopefully he can continue to do that. If Ty wasn’t where he (is) hitting-wise we wouldn’t be where we’re at as far as being in games.”

Through much of the first half of the 2016 schedule, spotty defense has plagued WSU costing them unnecessary losses.

“I think we’ve gotten better defensively, without a doubt,” said Lees. “All of our infielders have gotten better. I do like the progression of all of our kids in the infield. It’s gotten much better from the start (of the season).”

Lees said Damon Jones will take the mound in the series opener Saturday at 7 p.m.. Ian Hamilton (1-8, 4.76 ERA) will start the second game Sunday afternoon at 4pm with Scotty Sunitsch going in the finale Monday night at 7 p.m. Lees spoke at length about giving the ball to Sunitsch for the third game.

“As we move on and look at kids that can start here...we felt like we want to give Scott that opportunity,” said Lees. “Typically we have him and Walker in the pen ready to go...but we just want to set a routine for him and see if we can get the best effort out of him as we can. When we have good starts on the mound, we can stay in ballgames and have a chance to win. Coach (Dan) Spencer felt like it’s (Sunitsch’s) time. We’ve got three guys we feel like can give us three good starts.”

All three games vs. Utah are scheduled to be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.

Stemp, a fourth-year junior, is atop the conference with 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. The Cougs, as a team, are second with 51 thefts in 67 tries which is the best ratio of success on the basepaths in the Pac-12.

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