Win or lose, the Washington State will always stand for the Cougars’ fight song, which they belted out Sunday afternoon even after watching their team get swept by Washington during the Cougars Diamond Classic at Gesa Stadium.
But the Cougars finally gave the 1,163 fans in attendance Monday something to cheer about.
Adam Nelubowich drew a bases-loaded walk off Portland reliever Kody Watts in the bottom of the eighth inning to bring home Trace Tam Sing with the winning run in WSU’s 1-0 nonconference win over the Pilots.
It wasn’t an especially pretty win, considering the Cougars didn’t get a hit in the inning — Watts and Chad Kjehmus allowed four walks in the frame to seal Portland’s fate. In fact, WSU had only three hits all day.
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However, considering the victory broke a six-game losing streak and allowed Washington State (22-30) to leave Pasco on a high note, the Cougars weren’t about to return the gift.
“That’s baseball. We’ve got our chins up right now,” WSU closer J.D. Leckenby said after retiring the side in order in the ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.
The Pilots (18-36) lost their fifth game in a row and ninth of their last 10.
Leckenby, a junior right-hander, got off to a shaky start, putting himself behind 2-0 against Portland pinch-hitter Ben Grubb to lead off the top of the ninth. But he squared himself in time to throw three strikes in a row — the last one a nasty, 93-mph sidearm fastball that caught the inside corner — and set Grubb down.
“I had to take a step off the mound to ease my routine,” Leckenby said. “Then it was a matter of throwing what (catcher Collin) Slaybaugh called.”
After that, Leckenby got two room-service groundball outs on the next three pitches to end the game.
Richie Ochoa (2-0) picked up the victory, retiring the only batter he faced after relieving Kyle Swannack in the top of the eighth. It wasn’t much work for the left-hander to do, but he did it efficiently, getting Kramer Scott to gorund out to first on just one pitch.
Ochoa’s win was his ninth career win in relief, tying him for third place on WSU’s all-time list.
“I knew how many wins I had, but I didn’t know where I was ranked,” Ochoa said. “I’m kind of used to my role. I usually come in to get lefties out. I usually throw sliders and curves but this time I went with a fastball away.”
Matt Mendenhall, a former Southridge standout, got a rare start at first base. Batting just .087 (2-for-23) heading into the game, the 6-foot-2 freshman was surprised to see his name on the lineup card, but he was one of just three Cougar players to get a hit on the day.
Mendenhall went 1-for-3 with a bloop single over third base to lead off the seventh, but he’s still hoping for a chance to contribute a little more. Still, he appreciated the chance to return to the Tri-Cities.
“It was fun being able to come back, and it was nice to play in front of family and friends,” he said. Kjemhus (1-1) took the loss after walking the only two batters he faced in the ninth.
Portland 000 000 000 — 0 5 1
Washington State 000 000 01x — 1 3 1
Lockwood, Kjemhus (8), Watts (8) and Fraser, Cornish (9); Schroeder, Bower (5), Swannack (7), Ochoa (8), Leckenby (9) and Slaybaugh. Highlights—Nelubowich (WSU) RBI; Tam Sing (WSU) R; Schroeder (WSU) 6 Ks; Armenta (P) 2x3.