Comeback Cougs off to nailbiting NCAA start

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Donnie Marbut, asked to explain Washington State's endless array of come-from-behind baseball victories, said he is to blame. "If I did a better job of coaching," Marbut likes to deadpan, "we wouldn't always fall behind."   If it ain't broke, don't fix it, Coach. The 23rd-ranked Cougars came from behind twice Friday night in an opening-round thriller at the NCAA tournament.

Cody Bartlett's two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth snapped a 6-6 tie in WSU's 8-6 triumph over Kansas State

Sound familiar? The Cougars (35-20) have come from behind to win 19 times. Six of those wins required the Cougars to come from behind twice, and Friday marked the seventh time a come-from-behind win was capped with the deciding run(s) in WSU's final trip to the plate.

"We never lose faith," senior designated hitter Matt Fanelli said.

That's partly due to the fact that Fanelli and his teammates have so much faith in Bartlett.

At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Bartlett would be the last guy you'd identify in a police lineup as a home run hitter. Somehow, he has clubbed six home runs this season.

"I've played against this guy and with this guy the last eight years, and I think he's out-homered me every single year -- and I'm the 6-4 guy who's supposed to hit home runs," Fanelli said at the post-game press conference.

Turning to Bartlett, Fanelli deadpanned, "What are you -- 5-7?"

"C'mon, c'mon," replied Bartlett, feigning anger.

"Sorry -- 5-8," Fanelli said. "Cody's just a really good baseball player, and he always has been.


ALL-PAC-10 PITCHER ADAM CONLEY SHUTS IT DOWN IN NINTH

"This is the kind of stuff we've always expected of him since he's been here at WSU, so we're just all really pumped he's grown into his potential."

That's about all Bartlett has "grown into," but the redshirt junior backs down from no one, regardless of size.

"I've always been the smallest guy," Bartlett said. "Ever since I was little, my dad always said, ‘Play big.'

"My favorite movie has always been ‘Rudy' (the inspiring story of an undersized, walk-on football player at Notre Dame). I just kind of have that mentality. Size isn't going to bring me down."

WSU's next assignment is bringing down 15th-ranked Arkansas (41-18). The host Razorbacks are seeded No. 1 at the Fayetteville Regional; WSU is No. 2.

The Razorbacks, who went 3-0 against WSU at Baum last year and then dumped the Cougars 10-3 at the Norman (Okla.) Regional by scoring nine runs in the eighth inning, tied an NCAA tournament record Friday afternoon by blasting nine home runs -- yes, nine -- off the pitiful pitching staff of Grambling (La.) State. The Tigers' team earned run average skyrocketed to (gulp!) 8.74.

Asked by a reporter if he had watched the Arkansas version of Home Run Derby, Marbut joked, "We just had a win -- it was a great moment -- and you just brought that up. Thanks a lot.

"The ball that (Andy) Wilkins hit -- I don't think it's landed yet."

Marbut was referring to a moon shot that cleared the 39-foot-high scoreboard in right-center and landed perhaps 475 feet from home plate. Wilkins was one of three Razorbacks who homered twice. Meanwhile, Brett Eibner went 4-for-5 with three homers, seven RBIs, a gorgeous diving catch in center field and a run he scored from second base on a deep fly to center.


SHEA VUCINICH TAGS OUT WOULD BE K-STATE BASESTEALER

Other than that, there's no good reason why Baseball America magazine predicts Eibner will be drafted 23rd overall in Monday's major league draft. Oh, and he did all that with a hairline fracture in his right wrist.

The Razorbacks expect upwards of 10,000 fans to be on hand tonight for a 5:05 PDT showdown with the Cougars. Two gifted sophomore southpaws, WSU's Adam Conley (5-3) and Arkansas' Drew Smyly (8-1), are the scheduled starting pitchers.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he expects slugging third baseman Zack Cox to be in the lineup. Cox has missed considerable action lately with back problems, and Van Horn said he pulled him early in the blowout win over Grambling as a precautionary move.

Conley pitched the ninth inning Friday to earn his 12th save, tying the single-season school record set by Ross Humes in 2007. The hard-throwing Conley has relieved and started on the same weekend three times since moving into the starting rotation late in the season.

Marbut joined Fanelli and Bartlett in raving about the gorgeous Baum facility and the enthusiastic Arkansas fans. The Razorbacks drew 6,305 on a steamy Friday afternoon, and the WSU-Kansas State contest drew 2,518 after the heat and humidity let up slightly.

The Cougars are well aware that Arkansas advanced to the College World Series last year by winning regionals and the best-of-three Super Regionals that follow.

"That's what we want to emulate," said Fanelli, who spanked a two-run double in the seventh before Garry Kuykendall tied the score at 6-6 with a pinch-hit, RBI triple.  "Getting a chance to play a great team at their home field -- it'll be a good test for us tomorrow. We're really excited about it."

All games in Fayetteville are being video streamed live for free at www.arkansasrazorbacks. The WSU radio feed is available for free at www.wsucougars.com.

Tonight's winner needs to win just once Sunday to go on to the Super Regionals. Teams must lose twice to be eliminated from regionals. Third-seeded Kansas State (36-21) and fourth seed Grambling (23-31) play a loser-out game at 12:05 today.

Matt Argyropoulos goes airborne for the cause. (AP/Hall photo)


Cougfan Top Stories