Cougs open baseball season Friday at Arkansas

By Howie Stalwick, Special to the Herald February 19, 2009 

PULLMAN -- The question put to Donnie Marbut was simple: What do you think of rival coaches picking your Washington State baseball team to finish eighth in the Pacific-10 Conference?

Marbut's answer was even more simple and to the point.

"I hope they're wrong!" blurted the colorful Cougars coach.

The Cougars, coming off their sixth last-place finish in 10 years, hope to start proving the naysayers wrong when they open the season Friday afternoon at 22nd-ranked Arkansas.

The Razorbacks ranked second in the nation in attendance last season with a 7,178 average and hope to draw at least that many for their opener.

"We're playing in the best venue (Baum Stadium) in the nation," Marbut said. "It's going to be a hostile environment."

Former Southridge High School stars Travis Coulter and Chad Arnold figure prominently in Washington State's plans.

Coulter, one of the smallest players in college baseball at 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, made honorable mention all-conference for the second time last season. He'll bat leadoff after topping the 2008 Cougars with a .331 batting average, 11 stolen bases and four triples.

"There's not a lot of guys 150 pounds who can swing the bat like he can," Marbut said. "He's a very, very good player."

Coulter started at second base as a freshman, but shoulder problems have limited him to designated hitter duties for the most part the past two seasons. Marbut said Coulter is making progress after his second shoulder operation in two years and hopefully will be able to return to second base after starting the season in center field.

Arnold rebounded from arm surgery to pitch in the starting rotation for WSU last year as a redshirt freshman. Arnold opens the season as the No. 3 starter after going 2-7 with a 7.67 earned run average last season.

"Chad is very, very talented," Marbut said.

Marbut said WSU's starting rotation is the best since he arrived in 2004 (he was promoted to head coach in 2005). Still, No. 1 starter Matt Way (4-4, 4.01) is a senior who has never started full-time in college, and No. 2 starter Jared Prince (2-2, 7.78) is coming off a second straight year of shoulder problems.

Prince, a senior co-captain with Coulter, said his right (throwing) shoulder is 100 percent for the first time since his sensational freshman year. Marbut said he hopes to limit the .330 career hitter (Coulter is just ahead of him at .331) to designated hitter duties when not pitching, although Prince is an outstanding right fielder.

The Cougars lost their top pitcher (Jayson Miller) and primary power hitters (Jim Murphy and Paul Gran) to graduation and the pros after a 30-26 season (8-16 in the Pac-10).

After the three-game weekend series at Arkansas, the Cougars are scheduled to make their home opener Tuesday night against Gonzaga.

No. 16 Oklahoma comes to Pullman next weekend.

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