WSU baseball trending in the right direction

Then-junior+first+baseman+Wyatt+Segle+runs+to+first+base+in+a+game+against+Stanford+on+May+27%2C+2017+at+Bailey-Brayton+Field.+WSU+lost+15-1.

LUKE HOLLISTER | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Then-junior first baseman Wyatt Segle runs to first base in a game against Stanford on May 27, 2017 at Bailey-Brayton Field. WSU lost 15-1.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen reporter

WSU baseball (24-29, 10-20) wrapped up their season this past weekend in Pullman, dropping all three games in a series against eighth-ranked Stanford (40-14, 21-9).

The Cougars finished the regular season ranked ninth in the Pac-12 but still a marked improvement over their last place finish in 2016. Head Coach Marty Lees watched his team improve from 19 wins to 24 in his second year at the helm.

It was likely the offense that saw noticeable improvement, which helped increase the win total from last year. The team’s batting average increased from .248 in 2016 to .272 in 2017. The Cougs scored 24 more runs and 45 more extra-base hits than last year. That’s in part because WSU hit 105 doubles — ranking third in the Pac-12 for that specific category.

Batting averages went up across the board. Seven players produced batting averages over .280 for the Cougars in 2017, compared to two in 2016.

Junior infielder Shane Matheny led WSU offensively. Matheny produced the team’s best batting average (.309) and second best on-base percentage (.408) while leading the team in runs scored, triples, runs batted in and total bases.

The improved offense sparked exhilarating highs throughout the season and often made the Cougs look like world-beaters.

The team put together a seven-game winning streak in the beginning of March for the first time since 2013, outscoring opponents 57-19 and received top-25 votes from Baseball America.

The winning streak was highlighted on what turned out to be a historical March 5 pitching performance. Junior left-hander Cody Anderson started for the Cougars and fired six no-hit innings. Junior right-hander Joe Rosenstein, freshman left-hander Isaac Mullins and junior left-hander Scotty Sunitsch combined to finish the last three innings without allowing a hit, marking the first no-hitter by WSU since 1985.

But with exhilarating highs came devastating lows.

The tumultuous nature of the WSU’s season was, in large part, the fault of the defense. The Cougars allowed 327 runs in 2016 and again, 327 runs in 2017. To go along with the lack of improvement, WSU stumbled with 69 errors in 2017, two more than the previous year.

In the first half of April, the Cougars disappointingly lost nine of 10 games. The stretch included being swept by two teams, California and Arizona State. To make matters worse, both of those teams were in last place at the time.

On April 15, WSU had a substantial 4-1 lead over Arizona State with two outs in the bottom of ninth inning. Junior right-hander Colby Nealy then walked the next two batters and allowed a three-run home run to tie the game. ASU then pushed across the winning run to complete both the upset and the sweep over the Cougars. Those kinds of losses can be detrimental to the overall team morale.

After four straight series victories in May, WSU looked to close out the season on a high note. Instead, the Cougars lost their last seven games by a combined score of 14-68.

Other losses include when sophomore Justin Harrer fell attempting to catch a fly ball against Utah, resulting in a walk off loss for WSU.

Sunitsch also walked multiple Oregon State batters to result in tying the game and allowing Oregon State to win. The Beavers only lost four games all year.

Overall, the Cougars made improvements in 2017, but there’s still work to be done.

“We need to get better if we’re going to play at a championship level,” Lees said.

Lees overturned the entire roster and brought in a recruiting class that was ranked 28th nationally by Baseball America. The revamped roster consisted of 18 fresh players and 17 returners, making for a very young and inexperienced team. Lees said talent level of his young roster makes him excited for the upcoming season in 2018.

“I really believe this team is going to be very good next year,” Lees said, “but we’ve got to do some things in the offseason to get better. There’s no question about it.”