Cougar Corner | Three Reasons Why WSU Is a Team To Watch in The NCAA

Lew WrightSenior Writer IMay 28, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The time for celebration has passed.

Coach Donnie Marbut and the Washington State Cougar baseball club know where they are going and what they plan to do when they get there.

From the very beginning of the recruiting process by Coach Marbut and his staff with high school prospects, it's clear what the Cougar baseball program targets.

The target?

Marching to a Division I baseball national championship is the journey present and future Cougs are focused on.

This season, the WSU baseball team (31-23)  is taking a significant step closer to their target.

There are no easy teams to play in the NCAA tournament. Not even close.

The NCAA selection committee invites 64 of the best baseball clubs in the nation.

Washington State is one of the 64 best teams in the nation this season. That's why they will travel to Norman, Okla. later this week to play Arkansas on Friday.

With the regular season behind them, there are three significant reasons the Cougs will prove to be a very dangerous opponent on the Road to Omaha and the 2009 College World Series.

First: WSU drew a regional pairing that has them facing teams they know about from game experience rather than scouting reports.

As invitations go, the one given to WSU presents a great opportunity.

The Cougs began this season with a three-game series against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Arkansas swept all three games.

The following week WSU hosted Oklahoma in Pullman for a four games series. They split the four games with the Sooners.

To complete the trifecta, the Cougs played Wichita State once last season on the road in Wichita. The Shockers won that game 6-4.

Coach Marbut points out facing Arkansas, Oklahoma or Wichita State again, the "...positive is that we are familiar with (those) club(s)." 

There's good reason for Coach Marbut to be optimistic about the opening round.

During the Tuesday morning press conference he said, "We're going somewhere we've been. It won't be unfamiliar to these guys." Coach Marbut was referring to the trip to Norman and the teams the Cougs will face.

No question that all the coaches will strive to have the team mentally prepared to enter the game Friday focused on doing what the Cougs do best. That is a unique challenge for WSU because they haven't been to an NCAA regional in a long, long time.

Second: WSU will be a tough for any opponent because of their pitching.

Matt Way is the ace of the Cougar staff. As Coach Marbut puts it, "He's got Friday night stuff." Translated, that means in a three-game series Way has a tremendous record of getting his team off to a great start. Winning the first game of a series sets up the next two.

"I can't say enough about him.  He's really grown up as a pitcher. Obviously his stuff has gotten better. He's developed more of a breaking ball, always had the great change up and he's got better fastball command. He's got great confidence. Then he's just unselfish and wants to do what he can for the team to win...at times this year he put them (the team) on his shoulders." - Coach Marbut talking about senior LHP Matt Way

Sophomore Chad Arnold has been a steady force on the mound as the second starter for the Cougs. Arnold was 6-2 in conference play with a 4.26 ERA and stuck out 45 batters in 50 1/3 innings pitched.

The other pitcher of note is closer Jeremy Johnson, a junior. Johnson has been outstanding all season for Washington State with a 2.83 ERA and 9 saves. He has notched 61 K's in 57 1/3 innings.

Third: The Cougs will do well this post-season because they have developed the knack for doing what it takes to win. 

Early this season, WSU was 5-11 and losing a lot of close games they could have won. That's what separates good teams from the rest.

You have to find a way to win close ball games. And WSU did just that, going 26-12 the rest of their regular season schedule.

"We started Pac-10 play and had a great start out of Matty on Friday night...scored a bunch of runs, then our pen kind of gave it up. We ended up winning... that tight game. We're never happy about giving up a big lead. But it was nice that we did and still won that tight game. So I think it gave our kids some confidence that they were going to win those tight games." - Coach Marbut on the turning point for his team this season

As with all of college sports, the reason the games are played is that you are never certain how things will turn out. 

With this Washington State baseball team, you'll have a tough time getting any of the players to hesitate about the outcome of a game they're playing in. Every time they take the field, it's to play winning baseball.

They believe in themselves. 

They have confidence.

They are the reason Cougar baseball is back.

Orignally published on Examiner.com

To see the complete 2009 NCAA College World Series brackets, click here



The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.