Richland's Conley has unfinished business at UW

By Howie Stalwick, Special to the HeraldMay 22, 2009 

PULLMAN — Opposing pitchers aren't buying it, but Kyle Conley is a nice guy.

In fact, Conley is so nice, he promises to spare college pitchers any further damage to their psyches -- not to mention their earned run averages -- and bypass his senior year at Washington to turn pro.

Conley, the former Richland High star, just hopes he can delay his pro career a few weeks by leading the Huskies deep into the NCAA playoffs.

To qualify, Washington must finish the regular season with a three-game sweep of Washington State in Pacific-10 Conference play this weekend in Pullman. Three wins would push the Huskies' overall record above .500, which is required of at-large entries in the NCAA playoffs.

"We still have a real regionals shot," Conley insisted.

The Cougars (28-23, 16-8 Pac-10) need to win just one game to clinch at least a tie for second place and likely advance to regionals for the first time since 1990. The odds on the Huskies (25-27, 13-11) advancing are considerably steeper than the odds on Conley breaking Washington's career home run record.

Conley tied the record when he notched his 42nd homer with an inside-the-park shot last Sunday at Arizona. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right fielder has matched his 19 home runs of a year ago, which ranks third in school history, three shy of the record. He tied a school record by hitting three homers in one game March 8 at Nevada.

Conley was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 16th round last year. The redshirt junior (he missed most of the 2007 season with a shoulder injury) says delaying his pro career one year was a wise move that should pay dividends on the field and in his bank account.

"I think I'm ready to make that next step," Conley said. "I'm prepared. Maybe I wasn't quite as prepared as I thought I was last year."

Conley made all-league first team in the Pac-10 and the New England Collegiate Baseball League in 2008. However, Conley says it was a prolonged slump in the NECBL last summer that helped convince him he's ready for pro ball.

"The season really helped me realize that you can get into a slump and get out of it and be fine," Conley said. "I think that's a valuable lesson I learned."

Despite a slow start, Conley tied for the NECBL lead with eight home runs and finished second with 37 RBIs in 32 games with the Newport (R.I.) Gulls. He only hit .278, but in six playoff games, he batted .417 with a league-leading five homers and 16 RBIs.

Conley is hitting .325 for Washington and ranks second in the Pac-10 in homers and third in RBIs (55).

"I just like how much fear he puts into other teams when he's coming up to bat," Husky center fielder Caleb Brown said. "You can tell by how everyone pitches him. He gets six straight breaking balls sometimes."

Brown, a freshman, said he's learned a great deal from playing with Conley.

"Everything that he's done is all from how hard he works," Brown said. "He hits (takes batting practice) just as much as any person on the team. He stays late after practice. He goes into the (batting) cage after games."

Conley said he's confident all the hard work will result in him going higher in the draft than last year.

And BaseballNorthwest.com projects Conley will be selected in the sixth to 10th round next month.

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