May hasn’t been a very kind month to the Washington State baseball team. The Cougars are just 1-10 through the first 19 days of the emerald month.
Adding insult is the notion that this weekend was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for several former Tri-City prep standouts, who returned to Gesa Stadium in hopes of shaking off the team’s recent slump.
But things went from bad to worse Sunday, as the Cougars dropped the third of a three-game series against Pac-12 rival Washington, losing 5-2 in front of 2,007 WSU-friendly fans in Pasco.
“The last six weeks have been tough. We’ve been searching for anything to get us back on track,” Cougar first baseman Brett Jacobs said.
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Jacobs, a Richland graduate who led the Bombers to 4A state championships in 2007 and 2009, had a successful series against UW, going 5-for-12 to go along with several strong defensive plays.
“I felt good up there, but I wish I was getting more hits with runners on,” Jacobs said.
The Cougs (21-31, 8-20 Pac-12) didn’t lack for hits, scattering nine off three pitchers. But leaving seven runners on base didn’t help matters. WSU left 27 ducks on the pond over the three game series, including three during a potential game-changing rally in the bottom of the eighth inning.
WSU got off to a shaky start when starting pitcher Tanner Chleborad allowed five runs — four earned — in just 22⁄3 innings, putting the Cougars in a 5-0 hole.
Washington shortstop Ty Afenir — the No. 9 hitter — gave the Huskies a 3-0 lead with a two-run, second-inning single, sending a first-pitch fastball from Chleborad back up the middle to bring in Trevor Mitsui and Joe Meggs. Afenir was sacrificed to second but made it to third on an error by WSU shortstop Trace Tam Sing. He scored on Andrew Ely’s bunt back to Chleborad to make it 4-0.
“I love Tanner. He’s been finding a lot of barrels lately, but he’s going to be good for us,” WSU manager Donnie Marbut said. “He’ll probably ask to pitch again (today).”
The Huskies tacked one more on in the third before Sean Hartnett came in to calm the storm, pitching 52⁄3 shutout frames to keep WSU in the picture.
“You’re never happy with how you do unless your team gets a win,” said the sophomore right-hander. “All I think about is giving up fewer runs than we score.”
He certainly did his job. Unfortunately, the Cougar hitters couldn’t quite live up to their end of the bargain. But they came close to it in the bottom of the eighth.
UW starter Zach Wright held WSU scoreless on six hits through seven innings, but the Cougars tapped reliever Tyler Davis for two hits and a walk to open the eighth. Tyler Kane replaced Davis, and Jason Monda hit a sacrifice fly to right to bring home Tam Sing for the Cougs’ first run.
Two batters later, Adam Nelubowich brought home Collin Slaybaugh with an RBI grounder to first. Jacobs, batting sixth, flied out to right field to end the inning.
“All weekend long we got outpitched, we definitely got out-defended. We probably had more hits, but they weren’t as timely,” Marbut said.
The Huskies (23-31, 14-14) got three strong starts and capitalized on several of their offensive chances in the first Pac-12 sweep of the season.
“We had a lot of things bounce our way. You have to have that happen when you’re on the road,” UW skipper Lindsay Meggs said. “I thought we took some quality at-bats. This is not an easy place to score, so we talked about the small-ball approach.”
Jacobs may have prevented a few more runs from being tacked on in the final two innings. He dove to his right to glove Austin Rei’s hard grounder with Meggs on first. Meggs advanced just 90 feet as Jacobs flipped the ball to Hartnett for the putout at first.
One inning later, with runners at first and second and two outs, Robert Pehl beat Tam Sing’s throw to first on an infield grounder by a hair. But Jacobs keenly observed Andrew Ely leaning too far off the bag at third and fired a bullet to Patrick McGrath, who tagged Ely out to end the inning.
WSU wraps up its four-game stay in the Tri-Cities at noon today with a nonconference game against Portland.
Washington 131 000 000 — 5 11 0
Washington State 000 000 020 — 2 9 2
Wright, Davis (8), Kane (8) and Rei; Chleborad, Hartnett (3), Ochoa (9), Leckenby (9) and Jones. Highlights—Forgione (UW) 2x5, R; Meggs (UW) 2x2, R; Afenir (UW) 2x4, R, 2 RBI; Camporeale (UW) RBI; Rosen (WSU) 2x4; Jacobs (WSU) 2x4; Tam Sing (WSU) 2x4, 2B, R; Sagdal (WSU) 2B.