'It's a great day to be a Coug,' says Marbut

PULLMAN -- The tension and nervous chatter built steadily in the Camp Room at WSU's Bohler Athletic Complex as one regional after another was announced Monday morning during the NCAA baseball tournament selection show on ESPN. Finally, when "Washington State" appeared on the TV screen, 19 years of frustration was washed away by a deafening roar from some 200 players, coaches, family and friends.

"It's a great day to be a Coug," coach Donnie Marbut declared after the Cougars were seeded third in the regional at Norman, Okla.

The Cougars (31-23) make their first appearance in the NCAA playoffs since 1990 when they square off with second-seeded Arkansas (34-22) on Friday. Game time is 11 a.m. PDT at Dale Mitchell Park on the University of Oklahoma campus.

WSU lost three close games at Arkansas in February to open the season. The Razorbacks were ranked 22nd at the time and climbed to No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper's Top 30 poll at midseason, but Arkansas has lost 10 of the past 13 games (3-9 vs. ranked teams).

"We're really excited with this draw," WSU senior co-captain Jared Prince said. "We're real excited to play them. We feel like we've got a real good shot."

The Cougars have won three in a row, four of five and nine of their last 12 games. Arkansas lost its last game 11-1 to Vanderbilt Saturday at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"Washington State is a lot better than when they came out here," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.

WSU moved up from 27th to 24th Monday in the Collegiate Baseball poll. Arkansas is 23rd in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, but is no longer ranked by Collegiate Baseball.

Friday's game is expected to feature a rematch between opening-day pitchers Matt Way of WSU and Dallas Keuchel of Arkansas. Keuchel (7-3, 4.14) outpitched Way (8-4, 2.49) in a 4-2 decision Feb. 20. Both are left-handers.

"I'm just excited for that rematch," said Way, a teammate of Keuchel last summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

All 16 regionals are four-team, double-elimination events scheduled to run Friday through Monday. The WSU-Arkansas winner plays Saturday at 5 p.m. (all times PDT) against the winner of Friday's 5 p.m. contest between top-seeded Oklahoma (41-18) and No. 4 seed Wichita State (30-25).

Friday's losers meet in an elimination game Saturday at 11 a.m. Friday's winners tangle at 5 p.m. Saturday. Monday's champion advances to one of the eight best-of-three Super Regionals. From there, eight teams go on to the College World Series.

The Sooners are one of eight national seeds (seventh). WSU split four games with the Sooners early in the season in Pullman. Oklahoma is a consensus top 10 team in the polls. Wichita State is unranked.

None of the games in Norman will be televised. WSU's games can be heard on radio on KXLI 700 AM in Spokane and in the Palouse on KQQQ 1150 AM and/or KHTR 104.3 FM.

WSU broadcasts can be heard for a fee at www.wsucougars.com. That same Web site carries live stats for free on WSU's games.

Washington State, second in the Pacific-10 Conference, has a .278 batting average, 53 home runs, 42 stolen bases, 4.36 earned run average and .971 fielding percentage. Arkansas, fourth in the SEC Western Division, is hitting .267 with 66 homers, 59 steals, a 4.65 ERA and a .967 fielding percentage.

The Cougars and Razorbacks both have key players who may be limited or absent in Norman due to injuries.

WSU's leading hitter, first baseman-catcher Alex Burg (.355), and starting second baseman Cody Bartlett (.239) have knee injuries. Arkansas' top two hitters are ailing: Shortstop Scott Lyons (.313) and second baseman Ben Tschepikow (.307). Lyons has a bad shoulder and Tschepikow dislocated his left pinkie when he filled in at short for Lyons at the SEC Tournament.

Arkansas is 12-17 versus ranked teams; WSU is 5-12. Eight of the 12 SEC teams are playing in the NCAA tournament, compared to three of 10 Pac-10 teams/.br>
The unofficial Boyd's World RPI (Rating Performance Index) lists Arkansas at No. 13 and WSU at No. 45. Boyd's World ranks Arkansas third and WSU fourth in strength of schedule.

"I feel really good about our chances because of what these kids have done," Marbut said. "No matter what happens in this tournament the rest of the way -- whether we move on to the Super Regionals or whatever it is -- these boys have done everything we've asked them to do in the classroom, in the community and on the field."

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