WSU to be ranked after series win over No. 1?

PULLMAN -- If this was the start of a 2010 surge for the WSU baseball team, it was a pretty good opening act. The Cougs made history out on the diamond this weekend, knocking off the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, Arizona State, for the second time in three days Sunday.

More than 5,100 fans turned out on Mom's Weekend to watch the Cougars (17-11, 3-3 Pac-10) win a series against the traditionally powerful Sun Devils (28-3, 6-3) for the first time in school history after 12 losing bids.

"It's fantastic," sophomore pitcher David Stilley said. "You can't even describe how it feels. It's kind of surreal."

A well-played 9-5 victory at Bailey-Brayton Stadium came less than 24 hours after the Cougars struggled mightily in an 11-7 loss before one of the biggest baseball crowds (3,693) in school history.

"We played great today," WSU coach Donnie Marbut said Sunday. "We were clean on defense and walked one batter."

ASU leads the all-time series 41-11, but the Cougars were the better club this weekend in dealing the Sun Devils two of their only three defeats on the year.

"They came ready to play and they deserve everything they got with the series win," said Arizona State assistant coach Travis Jewett, who left WSU to join the Sun Devils' staff last summer. "They're going to win a lot more games in this league, that's for sure. They're well-coached."

THE TWO WINS may vault WSU back into the national rankings and knock Arizona State out of the No. 1 spot when the polls come out Monday. The Cougs were briefly slotted at No. 25 earlier this season before hitting a dry spell.

"We were kind of on a downward slide for a while," WSU relief ace Adam Conley said. "I think this series was a really good jump start for us to get back on track."

"It was just fun," right fielder Derek Jones said. "We hadn't had fun on a baseball field in a while, then we come out and prove ourselves against a really, really quality opponent."

JONES, BATTING .291 with 22 RBIs and a team-high five home runs, nearly homered in the first inning Sunday when his towering blast to dead center hit high off the wall. The two-run double pushed WSU ahead 2-1, and the Cougars led the rest of the way.

Asked how high the wall is in center, Jones smiled and said, "Too high."

Jones made a fine running catch at the right-field wall in the top of the first, but he saved his best catch for the sixth inning. Running full-speed into deep right-center, Jones leaped near the 375-foot sign and snared a drive off the bat of Arizona State star Zach MacPhee.

"That was incredible," Conley said.

"It's fun to hit home runs and stuff," Jones said, "but in big situations, it's always fun to flash the leather a little bit, show you're a complete player."

Speedy left fielder Garry Kuykendall also made a spectacular play, running forever to make a full-length diving catch in shallow left-center in the eighth inning.

Kuykendall, WSU's leadoff hitter, reached base all five times up thanks partly to the fact he was the victim three of the six times WSU batters were hit by pitches.

CONLEY, A LANKY lefthander whose fastball has been clocked at 94 mph, ranks among the national leaders with six saves. In 14 games and 24 innings, Conley has given up just 15 hits, struck out 23 and walked only six.

"We have no doubt when he's out there," Jones said.

Conley's earned run average "soared" to 1.12 when the Sun Devils strung together three scratch singles to score a run in the ninth.

CONLEY HAILS FROM Olympia along with Connor Lambert, Sunday's winning pitcher. A crafty right-hander, Lambert improved to 2-0 by throwing 2 2-3 innings of no-hit, shutout relief against the Sun Devils.

"He's just a workhorse," said fellow senior Matt Fanelli, still another Olympia native. "He battles every time."

"I guess if they're No. 1, you can beat anyone in the country," Lambert said.

FANELLI DROVE IN a run with a pinch-hit single in the sixth inning. A .273 hitter, Fanelli is 5-for-7 as a pinch hitter (.714), but he's batting just .235 (19-for-81) in his other at bats.

Asked if he concentrates more when pinch-hitting, Fanelli said, "Not really. We always have an idea that everyone is going to get in. So if you're not playing or starting, there's always that mentality, ‘Who's in there? Who am I going to face?'"

CONLEY AND JONES, a pair of sophomores, have received tentative invitations to the U.S. national collegiate team tryouts this summer.

"We've got to keep proving ourselves and getting better each day," Jones said. "Hopefully we can see ‘USA' across our jerseys."

The U.S. team plays at the World University Baseball Championships in Tokyo in late July and early August.

  • The Cougars play Seattle (4-22) in Wenatchee at 6 p.m. Tuesday, then return home to face Gonzaga (12-18) on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

  • Stilley, coming back from a sore arm, struggled with his location and lasted 3 1-3 innings in his third game of the year.

  • Jake Borup (6-1), one of the national leaders in wins, lasted just 2 1-3 innings against the Cougs and suffered his first loss.

  • The Cougars sent nine men to the plate in the first and sixth innings, when they collected all nine of their hits by nine different players.

  • WSU's average home attendance is 1,046. Arizona State, always among the national leaders in attendance, sold out its last three Pac-10 home games (4,371) and averages around 3,000.

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