The Washington State Cougars (28-22, 16-8) mounted the type of comeback you'd expect from a good team.
Good teams always find a way to win, which is a fine way to describe the weekend series between the Cougs and Oregon State (31-16, 13-11).
After taking the opening game of the three-game series with OSU in Corvallis, WSU pitching had a let down on Saturday giving the Beavs an opportunity to square the series at one game a piece. Oregon State pounded out 10 hits which plated eight runs while Beaver pitching limited WSU to just two runs. That was the final late Saturday afternoon 8-2.
Coach Donnie Marbut would know just how far this team has come in terms of maturity in the rubber game of the series.
Oregon State has been in and out of the national rankings this season. They are loaded with a talented lineup that can pound out hits the way The Beatles used to.
Winning on the road in the Pac-10 is no easy task. A look at the Cougs record at Bailey-Brayton Field verifies that assertion. Washington State is just flat out tough to beat in Pullman.
When Washington State fell behind to OSU Sunday afternoon, Coach Marbut had to be concerned about how his players would react. It wasn't that they were behind 4-0 at the end of three innings, the Cougs offense seemed to be completely dominated for the second consecutive day. This time around strong pitching by Beaver starter Jorge Reyes was getting the job done.
Nine up and nine down. That's a concise summary of the WSU batters. Reyes was in total command of his pitches, striking out three of those first nine WSU players who were supposed to be armed with bats.
Before Marbut could reach for a bottle of Maalox, the Cougs figured out Reyes and touched him up for three runs in the top of the fourth. The key to the rally was a steal of second by Jay Ponciano. Garry Kuykendall led off the inning with a solid single up to center, the Cougs first batter to reach base safely. Kuykendall later scored on a sacrifice fly by Derek Jones, Ponciano holding at first base. No question that when Ponciano stole second, Reyes was rattled enough to leave a 1-2 pitch over the plate for Greg Lagreid to drive the ball to deep left for a double.
It's one thing to be confident. Quite another to back up swagger.
The Cougs had their swagger on display and Oregon State was knocked off balance.
Jared Prince came through with another clutch two-out hit, smacking the first pitch offered up by Reyes to drive in Lagreid, closing the score to 4-3.
Oregon State came back with what they may have thought was an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth. If that thought crossed the minds of the Beavs, their policy would soon lapse.
Reyes managed to regain his composure in the fifth before coming apart in the sixth. He was lifted after WSU loaded the bases with the help of a Beaver error and a base-on-balls by Reyes.
The Oregon State bullpen intimidated Cougar hitters the way a school of mackerel might strike fear in the heart of a school of barracuda. Let's put it another way. The Beaver bullpen effectiveness can be summed up in one word. Not.
Washington State would go on the plate three more runs to take the lead 6-5, a lead they would not surrender.
Jeremy Johnson was the fourth reliever out of the bullpen for Coach Marbut. He made one bad pitch that was sent out of the park to tie the game. That was the only flaw in his solid performance. Johnson simply squared up his cap and settled down to business.
The Cougs supported Johnson's efforts by scratching out the go ahead run in the top of the ninth. Oregon State was set down in order one-two-three to lock down the series and second place in the Pac-10.
Coach Marbut had praise for his team after the win:
"Our guys earned this victory and they deserved it," Coach Marbut said. "This was as a good of win as I have been a part of in Pullman. Our guys refused to lose from 1-to-25 (on the active roster)."
Both first and second place in the Pac-10 looks to be a done deal. The juggernaut known as Arizona State (41-11, 19-5) holds a three game advantage over WSU with four conference games left. They travel to Tucson for a mid-week game with rival Arizona (26-24, 9-14) before hosting the UCLA Bruins (26-26, 14-10) for their final three games of the regular season.
Washington State has a two game margin over third place UCLA.
For folks in the Spokane area, you can head over to Gonzaga Tuesday evening to take in Cougar baseball playing the Bulldogs.
The fourth place Huskies (25-26, 13-10) will travel to Pullman this weekend. Washington has been playing excellent ball of late and hold out hope for an invitation to the NCAA regional. Sweeping the Cougs might just be what it takes.
When the Huskies and Cougars meet on the field of play, the last thing either team is thinking about is what a victory would mean for the other team's season.
Whatever the sport, these two schools fight each other like, well, cats and dogs.
This Washington State baseball team has come into their own at just the right time. They know how to win and how to find ways to earn victory.
Coach Marbut has his players focused on playing their best baseball.
Originally published on Examiner.com