The Washington State Cougars picked up a series win over the No. 9 Arizona Wildcats over the weekend.
After losing 11 straight road games, WSU (12-19, 4-11 in Pac-12) won the first two games, including a late rally in Game 2, to secure its first conference series win. of the season. Arizona (22-10, 10-5) avoided the sweep with a victory in Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Arizona jumped on Cougs starter Cole McMillan early on. McMillan (2-3, 7.20 ERA) beat Wildcats point guard Mac Bingham on a two-hit count, then walked two of the Wildcats’ next three batters to load the bases with just one out. The Cougs managed to keep a run off the board after releasing a force at home plate to out the second, then McMillan took an early lead against Noah Turley, putting the Cats’ six-hole hitter in an 0-2 hole. But, Turley fought hard, fouling five pitches and eyeballing a ball before undoubtedly smashing a grand slam on the batters eye in dead center field to give Arizona an early 4 lead. -0.
WSU exhibited its plate discipline in the third. Kyler Stancato drove an opening left single to start the inning, then Elijah Hainline and Jack Smith followed a Kodie Kolden lineout with consecutive five-pitch walks to load Colin Montez’s bases. Montez fought back from a 1-2 count and worked an eight-pitch RBI walk to put WSU on the board. Jacob McKeon and Jake Meyer proceeded to plate two with back-to-back RBI singles and all of a sudden it was a one-run game.
The one-run deficit lasted just one pitch as Kyle Russell roped in a fastball that was left in the middle of the plate for a line drive on the bouncing third baseman to score Montez and McKeon and give WSU a 5-4 lead.
Back-to-back doubles to open the top half of the fourth chased Arizona starter TJ Nichols (4-2, 3.57 ERA) after just three innings of work. Smith moved the runners with a single to score Kolden and move Hainline to third. Montez landed his second RBI of the day without recording an official at bat with a sack-fly to score Hainline. With two outs, Meyer hit an inside pitch into the right center gap to tag Smith from second and push the lead to 8-4.
As McMillan began to find a rhythm, the Cougar offense continued to pick him up. Hainline landed a two-out RBI single to score Justin Van De Brake in the top half of the fifth to give McMillan a five-point cushion. After working another scoreless fifth, the Cougar offense again rewarded McMillan for his persistence with a single Van De Brake two-run RBI with the bases loaded to give WSU its 11th consecutive unanswered run.
The Cats finally chained a few hits against McMillan in the sixth. A lead double followed by a two-out RBI double finally ended the Wildcats’ drought and brought Arizona back to within six. After losing Nik McClaughry on a hit after leading 0-2, Brian Green turned to Tyler Hoeft to relieve McMillan who, after his tough first inning, settled in and allowed just one run on four hits – half of those hits came in the sixth inning.
Hoeft put the Cougs on cruise control from there until the Wildcats threatened in the eighth. After bringing the first two batters to K, Hoeft was lifted after giving up back-to-back singles. Caden Kaelber came in relief and lost a nine-pitch battle to a walk to charge the bases and return the lineout to Cats first batter Bingham. With a chance to bring Arizona back in, Kaelber forced Bingham back on the ground at 2-1 to end the Wildcats’ threat. Chase Grillo came to close the door and sent the Wildcats 1-2-3 in ninth to give WSU their second win in 13 games, and a big one on top of that.
Buoyed by their upset victory on Friday night and hungry for more, Montez gave the Cougs an early spark with a one-on-one game, scoring a dropped third strike in style.
With two runners in scoring position, Smith cashed in with a defensive pick to score Kolden and give the Cougars an early 2-0 lead. Arizona wouldn’t be held scoreless so easily. The Wildcats staged a two-out rally in the fourth, loading McClaughry’s bases. He rode in what looked like a late inning, 6-4, but Kolden’s pitch at second was off the mark and passed Russell to score to tie the game and extend the inning. Mistakes like this against the #9 team do not go unpunished. Three straight singles knocked out the remaining runners and scored one more to give Arizona a 5-2 lead by the time the fourth period finally ended. All five points were scored unearned.
The Cougars responded immediately with a trio of singles, tackling one and setting up Montez with one out and runners on the corners down two. Montez picked up another sack-fly to bring Hainline in and cut the lead to one. Grant Taylor (2-3, 3.43 ERA) continued to mow down the Wildcat lineup. Taylor finished the game with seven good innings, allowing eight hits, five runs (all unearned), one walk, and six strikeouts on 112 pitches. Despite Taylor’s heroic efforts, if WSU couldn’t string together a few hits and push at least one to the plate before the bullpen took over in the eighth, Taylor would be in line for a loss in which he didn’t. didn’t allow a single earned run.
Montez reached second to start the inning after a throwing error by Arizona third baseman Tony Bullard. Montez scampered to third after a wild pitch and fell on a Russell RBI single.
For the second straight game, the Cougar offense landed its starting pitcher with a flurry of offense. The Cougs threatened for more with the bases loaded and two outs, but Holden Christian swung Hainline to keep the game tied at five.
Grillo came on in relief again and kept Arizona’s five, six and seven batters off the beaten path in the eighth inning. With two outs in the ninth, Russell continued his dismantling of the Wildcats with a clutch line drive down the middle to tag Hylan Hall from the third and give WSU a 6-5 lead. Grillo made the decision to close the door on the Wildcats for the second game in a row and he did just that. Pull two out and get Daniel Susac to fly into the center, just before the warning track. The win gave WSU the first road series against a top-10 team since 2012.
WSU didn’t get the clutch they were looking for early in the game. The Cougs grounded two base runners in the first two innings. A double from Cameron LaLiberte, a wild throw from McKabe Cottrell (1-6, 7.18) followed by a defensive pick scored the first inning of the game for Arizona late in the second. Cottrell’s day didn’t last much longer. A pair of walks followed by RBI singles from Garen Caulfield and Tyler Casagrande in the fourth ended Cottrell’s outing after 70 pitches in just 3.1 innings. Tyler Hoeft allowed another run to score, credited to Cottrell, on picking a defenseman before pulling Bingham out to end the fourth inning with the Cats leading 4-0.
In the bottom half of the fifth, Susac didn’t let the ball within yards this time, hammering a home run to the left to extend the Wildcat’s lead to 5-0. The Cougar offense continued to drag their feet, struggling to get guys up and when they could get guys up, failing to capitalize.
With two outs in the eighth and runners in the second and third, thanks to a wild pitch, the Cougars finally broke through on a two-RBI single to cross Bryce Matthews’ bat to score Hainline and Montez, giving the Cougars some lives just three heading for the bottom half of the inning. In his third inning of work out of the bullpen, Cam Liss hit the side, clinching his strikeout total on the day at six, keeping WSU under three going into the final frame.
Keith Jones II attempted to spark the rally with a pinch single, but the Cougars failed to hold the bats with a game-ending groundout and flyout allowing Arizona to avoid the sweep, 5-2.
After what was a miserable start to conference play, the Cougar baseball team must be thrilled to not only have a win, but a series win on the road against one of the top 10 teams in the country. Hopefully the Cougars can keep the bats warm and keep the ship turning as they host the California Golden Bears at Bailey-Brayton Field for a three-game series starting Thursday.