Don’t look now but Cougar baseball on a roll, winning streak reaches six

THE COMPETITION IS going to get tougher, a lot tougher. But it’s become apparent that few outside the baseball program expected the Cougs to do what they’ve done so far this season out on the diamond.

Washington State was the unanimous choice to finish dead last in the conference in the Pac-12 preseason poll (see below).  But after dropping its first two games of the season, Wazzu has won 9 of 11 ... including the last six in a row.

After taking both games in Saturday's doubleheader vs. Utah Valley 10-0 and 9-2, the Cougs' record stands at 9-4 with two contests left before the conference opener at USC on March 17 (7 pm, Pac-12 Network). 

Every Pac-12 team’s non-conference slate varies in terms of competition level as well as the number of home games. So clarity on whether Marty Lees' crew is truly ready to take a big step up within the conference will have to wait.  

But Wazzu’s youthful baseball team is gaining some believers -- the Cougs just started receiving votes in the "Others" category in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top 30 poll.  Not a bad start for a team picked to finish in the Pac-12 cellar.

So how young are the Cougs in Lees' second year as skipper?  Washington State has but one single senior on its roster, with 20 of its 34 players either freshmen or sophomores. Wazzu heading into this weekend's play had already seen 16 players make their Cougar debuts, including 11 in a starting role.

The WSU bats, and speed on the bases, help explain its 9-4 start: WSU ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in hitting (.269) and was second in the league with 12 stolen bases headed into the week.  After Saturday's doubleheader wins, seven Cougars are hitting over .300 led by 3B Shane Matheny (.476, pictured above); RF J.J. Hancock (.400) and SS Andres Alvarez (.391).

WSU was ninth in the conference, however, in ERA (4.74) before Saturday's twin bill.  But when WSU gets ahead late, pitching has been a strength. Southpaw Scotty Sunitsch was tied for the Pac-12 lead in saves (4) at the start of the day.  The WSU pitching staff had also picked off a conference-best five baserunners. LHP Cody Anderson lowered his team-leading ERA to 1.55 after the second Cougar win on Saturday.

The Wazzu defense has plenty of room for improvement -- its 19 errors and .952 fielding percentage rank last in the conference. On the plus side, WSU is tied for second in the league in double plays turned (9) and bases stealers caught (9).

One thing that doesn't show up on a stat sheet: resiliency. The first six Wazzu wins this season were come-from-behind victories.

Washington State goes for a four-game sweep of Utah Valley on Sunday (12 pm, Live Stream).

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