"They're one of the elite teams in the country," WSU coach Donnie Marbut said. "If you don't play great baseball, you won't beat them."
Washington State (15-14, 6-3 Pac-12) hoped to build momentum for the Oregon State series by thumping an underwhelming Brigham Young squad Tuesday night in Pasco. WSU looked flat, however, and managed just six hits – only two of which left the infield – in a 3-0 loss to a BYU team that came into the game with a 12-21 record and a sky-high team earned run average of 5.10.
"I'm sorry to the Pasco crowd we didn't play good enough for them," Marbut said. "They deserve better."
WSU was riding a season-best six-game winning streak, capped by a three-game sweep of California. Marbut has complained about ebbs and flows in the Cougars' intensity all season. He had no complaints over the weekend against the Bears, but Tuesday was a different story.
"Some days," he said, "I don't know what team shows up."
As usual, the Cougars drew well at Gesa Stadium. The team's fourth annual visit produced a near-capacity crowd of 3,360 on a warm but windy night.
"I love it down here," Marbut said. "I think the Tri-Cities fans are unbelievable Cougar fans. I'd like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for coming out and supporting this team."
The Cougars would love to see similar support in Pullman this weekend. Chilly weather at Bailey-Brayton Field has helped limit WSU's attendance average to 537, with a high of 878.
Oregon State (25-6, 9-3), the defending Pac-12 champion, figures to be the best club to invade Bailey-Brayton this season. The Beavers boast outstanding pitching, quality hitting and air-tight defense. A second straight trip to the College World Series would surprise virtually no one.
"Oregon State is a great team," WSU third baseman Nick Tanielu said. "They play hard. They've bought into what they want. They want to get back to Omaha (Neb., home of the College World Series)."
Game times are 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. All three games will be broadcast on local radio and video streamed live for free at www.wsucougsars.com.
"To win this series would be a tremendous step forward," WSU right fielder Yale Rosen said.
Oregon State is led by junior left fielder Michael Conforto. The 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year leads the Pac-12 or ranks close to the top in batting average (.383), on-base percentage (.531) and RBIs (35). He's a prime candidate to repeat as a first-team All-American, and he might be the first Pac-12 player selected in the major league draft this summer.
"He's a great kid," said Marbut, who recruited Conforto out of Redmond High School. "He's an unbelievable player. He's going to be one of the top 20 (draft) picks in the country."
Conforto has hit just two home runs – he tied for the league lead each of the past two years with double-figures homers – as teams pitch around him. Of course, the Beavers usually don't need to score too many runs, because their team earned run average is 2.15. Over the past four Pac-12 games, the Beavers have yielded just two runs.
"They've got great starting pitching," Marbut said.
"If guys just play their game," Tanielu said, "I feel we can play with the best of ‘em."
Senior left-hander Ben Wetzler, Oregon State'S Friday starter, is 6-0 with a microscopic 0.38 ERA that ranked second in the latest NCAA Division I stats (through Sunday). Opponents are hitting just .106 off Wetzler, who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 11 games for illegal contact with an agent last year after he was drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies complained to the NCAA about illegal agent involvement with Wetzler and WSU senior outfielder-pitcher Jason Monda, Philadelphia's sixth-round draft pick. The NCAA cleared Monda of wrongdoing.
MARBUT SAID he expects Monda, who was drafted as an outfielder, to focus on pitching and do little or no hitting the remainder of the season.
Monda, batting just .154, is nursing a leg injury and has limited practice time due to labs and other academic responsibilities. He's an aspiring doctor.
ROSEN, THE Pac-12 Player of the Week, ranked first in the conference in slugging percentage (.624), third in hitting (.396) and fourth in on-base percentage .483) when the latest Pac-12 statistics were compiled Monday. He picked up two more hits Tuesday, and a fierce crosswind may have robbed him of a home run in the third inning.
"He's a really good player," Marbut said. "He's playing really good right now."
ROSEN DID MAKE a costly throwing error Tuesday in the seventh inning, when the "other" Cougars – the ones from Provo, Utah – came up with all three of their runs and four of their nine hits.
Marbut was pleased with the four shutout innings thrown by WSU starter Kellen Camus. The gritty senior, a set-up man out of the bullpen, was making his second start of the season.
Brigham Young received loud support from a portion of the crowd. BYU is a Mormon school, and the Tri-Cities has a large Mormon population.
Marbut vowed to bring the Cougars to Pasco every year "as long as I'm the coach of Washington State."
ROSEN SAID THE Cougars "have worked so hard" to improve their defensive play after a shaky start.
"We're playing tremendous defense," Marbut said.
Tanielu made a tough off-balance throw after expertly charging a bunt to get an out in the third inning. He made a full-length, diving stop of a groundball for another out in the fourth.
Speedy left fielder Ben Roberts ran forever to track down a wind-blown fly just inside the foul line in the sixth. Losing pitcher Sam Triece made a great diving catch on a bunt in the seventh.
WSU FRESHMAN CLOSER Ian Hamilton continues to rank with the national leaders with 10 saves. The school record of 12 is shared by Adam Conley (2010) and Ross Humes (2007).