Washington State baseball can’t find strike zone at home

Chris Shaw | Evergreen Baseball reporter

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The Cougar pitching staff struggled again during the weekend, losing 13-1 and 8-6 to the Western Carolina Catamounts (4-2) in WSU’s first two home games of the season. 

            Sunday’s game was postponed because of snow, which means the teams will play a doubleheader today beginning at 2 p.m. at Bailey-Brayton Field. 

            Missed opportunities plagued the Cougars all weekend, but especially in the second game when they found themselves down by three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Trek Stemp led off the inning with a single, and then came around to score on an RBI triple by Collin Slaybaugh. 

            The Cougars proceeded to load the bases and, with two outs, Luke Stratman stepped to the plate with the chance to tie the game with a base hit. Instead, he struck out against Colton Davis, who earned his first save of the year, and the scoring threat was extinguished. Davis retired the side in the ninth to secure the win. 

            Stemp said the team is in awe, and that something needs to change in order to turn around this 1-5 start. 

            “It’s not like we’re not fighting hard,” Stemp said. “It’s just things haven’t been going our way. There are a few tune-ups that we’re going to have to do defensively, offensively, in pitching, and with everything.”

            Cougar starter Tanner Chleborad, who had the longest start for the team in their first trip through the rotation last weekend, lasted only four innings in Saturday’s game. Chleborad gave up seven runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out four. 

            Joe Pistorese finished the game with five innings of relief, totaling six strikeouts and only allowing one run. Pistorese struck out the side in the top of the fifth. 

            Pitching was not even a factor Friday for the Cougars as four hurlers combined to give up 13 runs to the Catamounts in an offensive onslaught. Scott Simon began the game and surrendered three runs on five hits. 

            Reliever Sean Hartnett, who had not allowed a run in 4 2/3 innings before the series against WCU, gave up five runs in this game. However, only one of the runs was earned. 

            Meanwhile, the WSU hitters had to deal with Jeremy Null, who threw seven innings of one-run ball, striking out six and walking one. Null pitched eight shutout innings and struck out 12 in his first outing of the season against Mississippi State, which was then the No. 2 team in the country. 

            “I’ve just been feeling it, pounding the zone and throwing a lot of strikes,” said Null. “You work ahead and it makes your life a lot easier as a pitcher, so I’ve just been trying to get ahead, and that’s what’s really been helping me out.”

            The Cougars will need to win both games today to salvage a split in their series with the Catamounts. After this home series, WSU travels to play Cal State Northridge in a four-game set beginning Thursday.