BASEBALL: 2010 Cougs are all about heart

A CASUAL OBSERVER would notice nothing extraordinary about the 2010 Washington State baseball season. A conference record of 11-10. A 28-18 record overall. Middle of the pack in Pac-10 batting, pitching and fielding statistics. Few players among the conference leaders in individual statistics. Ah, but numbers alone tell us nothing about heart.

When the Cougars exploded for seven runs in the top of the ninth inning Sunday at Stanford, it marked WSU's 17th come-from-behind win, and the sixth in the final at bat.

"They're just tough kids," coach Donnie Marbut said Tuesday. "They just have a never-say-die attitude. I hope that's something we stress around here. We like to think that we recruit tough kids.

"We always tell them, ‘Tough times don't last, but tough kids do.' If you're a tough kid, you're going to last throughout the ball game. You could be down in the sixth, but you're going to win it in the ninth."

ALL THE IMPRESSIVE rallies have helped the 24th-ranked Cougars position themselves to play in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

The Cougars haven't done that since 1987-88.

With six Pac-10 games left, the Cougars have climbed into a third-place tie with California and Stanford. The Bears and Cardinal were Top 25 teams before WSU went 5-1 against them the past two weeks.

Marbut said the last-place USC Trojans (23-28, 5-16), WSU's guests this weekend, are the only Pac-10 team he's certain won't be invited to the NCAA tourney. Marbut said he's confident that a solid spot in the final standings in "the best conference in the country" will assure an NCAA berth.

WSU finishes the regular season May 28-30 at second-place and 10th-ranked UCLA (37-11, 13-8). Tonight's non-conference game at Gonzaga was rained out, but the Cougars play next Tuesday night at Gonzaga and the following night at home against Portland.

SUNDAY'S NINTH INNING grand slam added some more frosting to the delicious senior season of first baseman Michael Weber.

"I love Michael Weber," Marbut said. "I love everything about him. I love the type of teammate he is. I love the type of player he is. I hope that in the future we can recruit more guys like him."

Weber leads the Cougars with a .570 slugging percentage (10th in the Pac-10), .440 on-base percentage and 13 doubles (tied for team lead). He's batting .313 (third on the team) with six home runs (second) and 31 RBIs (second).

Weber, whose name is pronounced like Webber, is the only Cougar batting over .300 in league play (.320) -- Not bad for a guy who hit just .220 last season (.234 in league).

ADAM CONLEY (4-2, 2.62) has pitched well in two starts, but Marbut said Conley may return to his closer role this weekend.

WSU has struggled to find a reliable starting pitcher besides Chad Arnold, and Marbut said he's uncertain who will start Sunday. Arnold (4-2, 3.43) takes the ball Friday and James Wise (2-1, 4.20) has earned another Saturday start.

Arnold leads the Pac-10 with three complete games, Wise is the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week and Conley ranks fifth in ERA and second in saves (10).

FRESHMAN LEFT FIELDER Brett Jacobs still leads WSU in hitting (.364, 10th in the Pac-10), but he's batting just .259 in Pac-10 play. He sat out the past two games.

Marbut said Jacobs, a neophyte in the outfield, may lose some playing time to center fielder Kyle Johnson, the Cougars' fastest player.

"He's as good a center fielder as anybody in the country," Marbut said.

Right fielder Derek Jones, who leads WSU with eight home runs (tied for sixth in the Pac-10), returned to action last weekend after missing nine games with a broken hand.

FORMER COUGAR Eddie Bonine is off to a strong start as a middle reliever with the Detroit Tigers (3-0, 1.66 in 15 games).

Mark Hendrickson, the other WSU product in the majors, is 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in 13 games with Baltimore. Normally a middle reliever, Hendrickson pitched a solid five innings Sunday but lost 5-1 to Cleveland in his first start of the season.

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