Busy days ahead for Marbut, Cougs

ALL THIS SUCCESS must be going to Donnie Marbut's head. After all, Washington State's baseball coach has permitted himself the luxury of spending two entire days in Pullman since returning home from the NCAA regionals Sunday night. That all changes today. A wide-ranging discussion with tons of news and notes as Marbut talks baseball with Cougfan.com..

"It starts Wednesday -- I'll be on the road for two months," Marbut said Tuesday.

Marbut won't be gone every day for two months, but recruiting -- the lifeblood of any college sports program -- demands plenty of travel by Marbut and full-time assistants Travis Jewett and Gregg Swenson.

Marbut speaks highly of the 11-man recruiting class the Cougars signed to letters of intent last November, but the occasional late bloomer is added in the summer (example: Matt Way). Also, two Puget Sound prep standouts signed by the Cougars, Cedarcrest pitcher Travis Cook and Shorecrest pitcher-first baseman James Robbins, are drawing looks from pro scouts.

"We don't expect to lose guys (incoming recruits) right now," Marbut said, "but it only takes one team to like somebody a little bit differently. That's what's happened to us in the past."

MARBUT SAID HE expects all four WSU seniors (excluding injury redshirt candidates Travis Coulter and Ross Humes) to be drafted by major league teams next week, plus redshirt junior Jeremy Johnson. Marbut said he expects Johnson to turn pro, but the coach said he's counting on starting pitcher Chad Arnold (draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore) to spend another year in a Cougar uniform.

"I think we have a great club returning," Marbut said. "We have a strong, strong nucleus.

"I think we'll be a different type of club. I think we'll be a little bit more athletic, run a little bit better. We'll probably hit a little bit more left-handed."

The Cougars were outhit .273-to-.279 by opponents this year, even though WSU's pitching staff was strong. The offense might get an immediate boost next year from Brett Jacobs, a slugging shortstop on Richland's State 4A champs.

"He's a really skilled right-handed hitter," Marbut said. "He might play second or he might play left field."

Marbut said Coulter "will be 100 percent in the fall" after being injured in the fifth game this year and requiring surgery on his left shoulder. The speedy little Coulter can play second base or in the outfield, and he's a career .326 hitter.

JOHNSON AND ALL four departing seniors (Marbut isn't positive Humes will return) were major contributors this season.

Johnson, WSU's closer, posted a 6-2 record, 2.90 earned run average and 10 saves. Way, who may receive some All-America mention, went 8-4 with a 2.43 ERA. First baseman catcher Alex Burg led the Cougars with a .346 average and had seven homers and 34 RBIs. Catcher-designated hitter Greg Lagreid (.332-5-42) led the team in RBIs. Right fielder Jared Prince (.343-7-38) was tops in slugging percentage at .558 and was errorless in the field for the third time in his four college seasons.

Center fielder Garry Kuykendall (.299-1-17) is WSU's top returning hitter among full-time starters. However, catcher-designated hitter Jay Poinciana (.352-4-21) moved into the starting lineup at midseason and quickly emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in the Pac-10.

MARBUT SAID HE can see Arnold (8-3, 4.39) replacing Way as the No. 1 starter, but the coach said he isn't ruling out David Stilley. A redshirt freshman, Stilley (3-3, 4.63) replaced Prince as the No. 3 starter for the second half of the season.

"Chad has the ability to be our Friday night starter next year," Marbut said. "Stilley's going to have that ability.

"In the closer role, I could see Seth Harvey (0-1, 2.25) in that role. I could see Adam Conley (1-1, 5.97)."

MARBUT WOULD LIKE to see more offensive production from his infield. Shortstop Shea Vucinich hit .230, and second baseman-third baseman Michael Weber hit .220. Third baseman Matt Argyropolous batted .270, but he had only 13 extra-base hits.

Muscular freshman Derek Jones led the Cougars with 12 home runs and played all three outfield positions, but he hit just .223 and struck out 60 times. Jones' plate discipline and ability to hit left-handers may improve with a year's experience.

Marbut has lined up WSU players with summer teams all over the country. Marbut said he wasn't satisfied with a 32-25 season, a second-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference and Washington State's first trip to the NCAA tournament in 19 years.

"We're disappointed how the season ended," said Marbut, whose team went 1-2 at the Norman (Okla.) Regional. "We feel like we could still be playing if we played a little better.

"But that's baseball. We're going to have to learn from that."

MARBUT HAS ALWAYS maintained his ultimate goal is a national championship.

In the meantime, he'll settle for a Pac-10 title. The Cougars finished two games behind third-ranked Arizona State this year.

"We were very, very close to one of the goals we set," Marbut said. "We didn't achieve it, but by finishing close, it allowed us to play in the postseason."

Marbut repeatedly said how much he appreciated the work ethic and attitude of this year's club, on and off the field. Athletic director Jim Sterk said the coaches were pretty special, too.

"I couldn't be more proud of Don and the assistants no the team," Sterk said. "They just did a great job...I told the team after the NCAA selections, they're doing it not just on the field, but in their personal behavior."

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