Home base; WSU baseball begins home series

Chris Shaw | Evergreen baseball reporter

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Home sweet home will become especially apparent this weekend for the Washington State Cougars. 

The WSU baseball team begins a stretch of seven-straight home games when it plays the first game of a four-game set tonight against the San Jose State Spartans. The Cougars enter the series on a three-game losing skid, but they have lost each of those games by two runs or fewer. 

“We need a little more attention to detail and realize that every single play really matters,” redshirt sophomore outfielder Ben Roberts said. “Those little things really come back to haunt you toward the end of the game. People focus on the end of the game where things get amplified, but it really could be something that happened in the second inning that could cost you the game.”

The Spartans have not played particularly well on the road or at home this season. They have an overall record of 7-18 entering the game and have a 2-6 record in away games. 

“We just play every game like we would any other opponent,” WSU junior outfielder Yale Rosen said. “We just go out there and work hard and play hard with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”

San Jose State freshman outfielder Brett Bautista and senior slugger Matt Lopez lead a Spartan offensive attack that has been outscored this season 156-91. However, Bautista is a threat to get on base often as he leads the team with a .318 batting average and .430 on-base percentage. Lopez has driven in a team-high 16 runs and has seven doubles and one homer this season. 

Closer Ian Hamilton has become a reliable man out of the bullpen during his freshman year. He leads the bullpen, and the team, in appearances with 12. He also has seven saves so far this season, which puts him in a tie for fourth place in the NCAA, first in the Pac-12, and first among freshmen. His only large blemish came on March 23 against UCLA when he allowed three runs and took the loss. 

Redshirt sophomore third baseman Nick Tanielu has cooled off at the plate since his hot start to the season. Tanielu is still batting a respectable .298 in 21 games, but he has now given way to Rosen, who has a .338 batting average in just as many games. Tanielu and Rosen are the only two Cougars to have started all 21 games this season. 

“You have to just work hard every day, stay consistent, get out here early, and get all your work done,” Rosen said of being able to start every game. 

Roberts has risen up lately as well and has used his increased playing time to post a .380 batting average and a .460 slugging percentage, all while collecting 19 hits and driving in eight runs. When he isn’t in the outfield, he has been used as the designated hitter to keep his bat in the lineup. 

“That’s how baseball is sometimes,” Roberts said. “You just get on those hot streaks and keep going. It helped that we were playing a lot, pretty much every day when we were down south, and I just continued to see the ball well.”

Junior catcher P.J. Jones has also added a spark to the Cougar lineup after going 10 for 26 on the team’s road trip. His recent hot streak snapped a 0-for-31 clip he had at the beginning of the season. 

The normal rotation of senior Jason Monda, junior Joe Pistorese, and junior Tanner Chleborad will pitch in that order for the first three games. They will be opposed by Spartan senior Johnny Melero, sophomore Jonathan Hernandez, and freshman Logan Handzlik, respectively. A fourth WSU starter will be announced later and will face junior Kalei Contrades, who is the best statistically of the four Spartan starters in terms of ERA, strikeouts, and hits allowed. 

Game 1 is scheduled to begin tonight at 6 p.m. at Bailey-Brayton Field.