Marbut makes all the right moves in WSU wins

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Ballots for the Fayetteville Regional all-tournament team were distributed to the media during Sunday night's game, but no space was set aside for voting on the best coach. In other words, Donnie Marbut is set to get hosed out of another award he deserves. And Sunday, in not one but two elimination games, offered plenty of evidence why..

The man who should have won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors the past two years -- but who didn't win either year -- was at his wheelin'-and-dealin' best Sunday in guiding Washington State to a pair of win-or-pack-your-bags victories.

What other coach would start the same pitcher (James Wise) twice in the same day?

Or bench his leading hitter (Brett Jacobs) in the most important game of the season.

Or bench his starting third baseman (Matt Argyropolous) for the first time all season.

Or use his No. 1 starting pitcher (Chad Arnold) in relief for the first time in 15 months.

Or use a relief pitcher (Connor Lambert) three straight days.

Or have his cleanup hitter (Matt Fanelli) bunt with none out and a man on second midway through the game.

Donnie Marbut did all that and more Sunday.

Not all of his daredevil antics have worked in Fayetteville -- remember him waving Derek Jones around third Saturday and having Jones get thrown out at home by two time zones? -- but the vast majority of Marbut's decisions have worked out brilliantly.

IT IS A given that coaches tend to receive too much credit when teams play well and too much blame when things go awry. Still, it is impossible to overstate how much the aggressive play and scrappy attitude of WSU's players reflects the manner of their coach.

"You kind of take the mentality of your coach," Jones said. "In the fall, he's always preaching, ‘Who are we? What kind of team are we?'"

Uh, the answer would be: Pretty dang good, Coach.

THE 23-RD RANKED Cougars play No. 15 Arkansas tonight at 5:05 for the Fayetteville Regional championship and a trip to the best-of-three Super Regionals -- the Sweet 16 of the NCAA baseball tournament.

The two teams drew 8,236 Sunday night for a wild 10-7 Cougar victory at Arkansas' Baum Stadium, and this evening's crowd could be larger.

The Cougars (37-21) kept their season alive by rallying from a 6-1 deficit to beat Kansas State 9-6 Sunday afternoon.

It is entirely possibly that no college team in the country can match WSU's 20 come-from-behind wins this season.

"We knew when we were up 6-1 that Washington State's never going to quit," Kansas State star Nick Martini said.

"That's a tough team," Wildcats coach Brad Hill said. "It (the comeback wins) says a lot about their staff and it says a lot about their players."

THE COUGARS LED ARKANSAS (42-19) from the first inning on in the nightcap, thanks partly to some stunningly sloppy play by the Razorbacks.

Washington State out-hit Arkansas 13-10, and when it mattered most, the Cougars absolutely raked at the plate.

The chief raker, as it were, was Mr. Jones. One night after he struggled to keep his throws from right field beneath low-flying aircraft, Jones drove in five runs against Kansas State with a two-run single and three-run homer, then went 4-for-5 against Arkansas with a double, two RBIs and a spectacular, run-saving, full-length diving catch.

"He's a dangerous, dangerous hitter," Marbut said. "Everyone knows it when they're facing us. When he's going good, good things for us usually happen."

ALL BUT FORGOTTEN amidst the offensive onslaught of the Cougars was the clutch pitching. Kansas State teed off early and often on Wise, but four relievers threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball (the first 4 1/3 by freshman Richie Ochoa).

Then came Wise's double-duty act. He jumped at the chance to start when pitching coach Gregg Swenson approached him between games, and Wise was credited with the win after he left the game with a 2-1 lead at the end of three innings. He threw 76 pitches in the first game and 53 in the second.

"If that can't inspire your team, you can't be inspired," Marbut said.

"My teammates picked me up in the first game … I just felt it was my turn to answer the ball for my teammates and do my job," Wise said.

He did it so well -- with the aid of game relief efforts by weary-armed Lambert and Arnold -- that WSU is one win away from its first regional championship since 1976.

Coaches on both sides said they're not certain who they will pitch tonight.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he expects star center fielder Brett Eibner to return to the lineup after sitting out Sunday with a hamstring injury. Eibner and teammate Zack Cox may soon cash in on huge pro contracts -- they're expected to go in the first round of the major league draft, which begins Monday -- but the Cougars will gladly settle for cashing in on a free trip to Tempe, Ariz., after a victory Monday night over Arkansas.

  • The victory over Arkansas was WSU's first ever at an SEC school and its first of any kind over an SEC team since downing Kentucky in 2002.

  • The three wins the Cougars collected over the weekend is the most in a post-season by a WSU team since 1976, when the Cougs advanced to the College World Series.

  • WSU has 37 wins this season -- the most for a Cougar team since 1991 and the Aaron Sele-Scott Hatteberg days.

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