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Leaving behind a better team

Senior takes pride in tradition of mentoring younger players

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Senior first baseman James Rudkin waits on first base after batting in a single against Santa Clara University.

Senior first baseman James Rudkin waits on first base after batting in a single against Santa Clara University.

ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen

ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen

Senior first baseman James Rudkin waits on first base after batting in a single against Santa Clara University.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen reporter

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In its third year under Head Coach Marty Lees, WSU baseball has adopted a mantra — leave it better than when you got here.

It’s something senior James Rudkin has focused on in his final season.

“I feel like I’ve gotten better every single year,” Rudkin said. “The record doesn’t show it, but I think the way these guys are working and the team’s coming together, I definitely feel like it’s gotten better since I got here.”

The first baseman stands 6 feet tall. He wears Nike sport glasses as he fields groundballs, something he and the rest of the infielders work tirelessly at.

“I’ve honestly just seen my game improved by getting more reps,” Rudkin said. “I didn’t really take many groundballs at my junior college, but here we definitely get our fair share.”

Rudkin grew up in Plano, Texas, and attended Plano East High School, where he was scouted by Lees while he was working for Oklahoma State University.

Ultimately, Rudkin decided he would benefit from attending a junior college rather than riding the bench at a Division I school. He started school at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, where he played for two seasons under Head Coach Mitch Thompson.

Rudkin hit .374 with 15 doubles and three home runs as a freshman for McLennan. He helped them reach the championship game of the Junior College World Series, where he was named to the All-Tournament team. He also earned a spot on the NJCAA All-Academic Team.

After two seasons in Waco, Rudkin transferred to WSU after getting an offer from Lees to visit Pullman.

Lees immediately thrust Rudkin into an everyday role in his first season as a Cougar. The transfer started all 53 games at first base and became one of WSU’s most consistent performers.

Rudkin hit .288 with a .355 on-base percentage and 13 doubles in his first season at WSU. He had 14 multi-hit games, including two contests with three and one with four. His 59 hits were second most on the team and he was the only player to not go hitless in back-to-back games all season.

Now a senior in his final year of eligibility, Rudkin said he has made it a priority to help the younger players, reminding them it’s a long process and not to get too down on themselves when they struggle.

Rudkin said he points out to the young players that former infielder Shane Matheny and junior infielder Justin Harrer both struggled early in their careers before breaking out. Matheny was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2017 and Harrer, who leads the team with 10 home runs, will likely be drafted later this summer.

Lees said Rudkin’s defensive ability has contributed to the development of other Cougars.

“[Sophomore infielder Dillon] Plew has come along very well,” Lees said, “and it’s because of the people that are on both sides of him – [junior infielder Andres] Alvarez and Rudkin — that allow him to have that success, and coach him and be with him and help him understand the game.”

Rudkin said he has made many great memories at WSU. He said he’s never been a part of so many dramatic baseball moments on any team before. He’s been in the dugout for numerous walk-off wins, three no-hitters, a triple play and an inside-the-park home run.

After the season, Rudkin said he will work as an assistant for Lees while finishing up his degrees in finance and sport management. He said he hopes to work in a MLB front office doing baseball analytics in the future.

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Leaving behind a better team