Right off the bat; WSU baseball starts 2014 season

Chris Shaw | Evergreen Baseball reporter

Great players, great coaches, and great tradition – that’s what WSU baseball Head Coach Donnie Marbut said the Cougars will face when they play Cal State Fullerton this weekend. 

As the 2014 season begins for the WSU Cougars, the team will embark on a four-game road trip that begins with a three-game series against the Titans. In three out of the four preseason polls, Cal State Fullerton ranks first in the nation. Baseball America puts Fullerton at fourth in the nation. 

That ranking is partly due to the Titans’ pitching staff,  anchored by two All-American pitchers, sophomore Thomas Eshelman and sophomore Justin Garza. Both pitchers were consensus Freshman All-Americans last season on a team that finished 51-10. 

“When you’re playing a team like Fullerton, it’s not like you’re going to get a bunch of cookies to hit,” Marbut said. “You better not miss your pitch because they’re not the type of pitching staff that gives you a bunch.”

Eshelman posted a 1.48 ERA and 83 strikeouts last season, while Garza had a 2.03 ERA with 95 strikeouts. Both pitchers allowed a combined four home runs all season and each pitched about 115 innings. Garza went undefeated at 12-0. 

Despite the glaring statistics, Marbut is confident in the lineup he will use to face the Cal State Fullerton aces. 

 “I think we have a really great offense,” Marbut said. “We like our offensive players, and I think we’ll develop into a good offense. If you look at the numbers, their pitching has some of the best pitching in the country, so I know it’s a tough task for us just to be able to keep ourselves in the game with that type of pitching they have.”

The Cougars have many returning faces in their lineup, including senior pitcher Jason Monda and senior catcher Collin Slaybaugh, junior outfielder Yale Rosen, and sophomore infielder Trek Stemp. All of these hitters had batting averages above .290 last season. 

Meanwhile, the two leading hitters for the Titans last season, first baseman Carlos Lopez and outfielder Michael Lorenzen, are not with the team anymore. Lopez led all eligible players on the team with a .339 average, and Lorenzen drove in the most runs with 54 RBIs. Lopez was also the team’s leading base stealer. 

Marbut said it is important that the Cougars play clean baseball this weekend because Fullerton is a team that capitalizes on its opponents’ mistakes. The Titans went 22-6 at home last season, while the Cougars had an 8-17 record on the road in 2013. 

Stemp said the team’s defense was a weakness last year and it will play a key role in beating Fullerton this weekend. The Cougars’ pitching will also need to throw plenty of strikes so the defense can make routine plays on the bunts that Fullerton likes to do, Stemp said. 

The 2014 versions of these teams will square off in the first game of the series at 7 p.m. on Friday, and despite the top-ranked program the Cougars are playing, the players are embracing the opportunity. 

 “It’s good for us because we want to get that top-notch competition right at the start, and their experience on the mound versus our experience at the plate with our hitters is going to be fun,” junior catcher P.J. Jones said.