Baseball showdown: Cougs vs. Devils in three

ONE YEAR AFTER winning a lone conference game, Washington State (20-7) is ranked No. 28, leading the Pac-10 in a number of individual and team statistical categories and coming off a rare pair of wins at perennial power Stanford. This weekend the Cougs do battle at home with No. 14 Arizona State (21-7) in a three-game series pitting an upstart against a mainstay. It's an early season showdown for the Pac-10's best overall mark.

The Cougar Nine will take the field against the Sun Devils will some national recognition in their back pocket.

They're ranked No. 28 and t-34th in the latest Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and USA TODAY Coaches' Polls, respectively. Long a baseball power over their 111 year history, it's the first time since the '94 season WSU's baseball team has received a national ranking. And they're doing it with youth.

The 2006 squad features 12 freshmen and nine first year players. Indeed, 24 of the 40 roster players are underclassmen while only five have received more than one varsity letter.

WASHINGTON STATE LEADS the conference in ERA (3.38 ), runs scored (229), on base percentage (.481), hits (324), doubles (67), hit by pitch (53), stolen bases (56) and attempts (75) and are second in batting average (.333 to USC's .334).

The second best hitter in the league is freshman Jared Prince, who enters the ASU series with a .433 batting average. The only one seeing the ball better in the Pac-10 is Cougar co-captain and third baseman Jay Miller, who tops the charts with a .448 mark.

Miller, named the Pac-10 Player of the Week for March 21-27, also leads the conference in doubles (20), hits (52) and total bases (972). Two program marks in his sights -- the all-time hits and doubles records at WSU.

The senior from Bellevue has logged 271 career hits at Washington State, tied for third on the all-time list with Jim Connor (1987-90). Miller needs 34 more hits to surpass all-time leader Mike Kinkade's (1992-95) mark of 304, the only Cougar to top the 300-hit plateau. Miller's rapid ascent to No. 2 on the career doubles list, with 20 in his first 52 hits, has propelled him to 66 career double-baggers, nine shy of all-time leader Kinkade.

ON THE MOUND, opponents are batting a paltry .197 against junior hurler Nick Ison. Wayne Daman Jr. has compiled a 5-1 mark on the year. The ERA for the former Forks area star stands at 2.82, with Daman having fanned 39 batters in 38.1 innings.

Sophomore Jim Murphy is among the league leaders in strikeouts with 24 Ks. And Prince is as explosive on the mound as he is in the box.

In addition to his hitting exploits, the Poulsbo native sports a perfect 0.00 ERA over 19 innings pitched. His 3-0 mark has been fashioned on allowing a .203 batting average.

The series continues Saturday at 6 p.m. with the finale scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

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