WSU baseball returns to the diamond under new coach

After 46 years of waiting and an additional eight months of momentum building, Marty Lees will coach his first college baseball game Friday as Washington State travels south to face Texas State.

The Cougars open their 2016 season with a four-game series against the Bobcats, only the second time the two programs have faced each other. Junior right-handed hurler Ian Hamilton will make his first career start for the Cougs Friday, a decision that took Lees only 30 minutes to make after he was hired on June 15.

“I’d known Ian for a while from being in the northwest and had seen and watched plenty of games he was in,” Lees said Wednesday in his season-opening press conference. “I just felt like for our team to be where we wanted to be and compete immediately on Friday night, what a guy to be out there with.”

Hamilton, a two-time All-Pac-12 Pitcher and the career saves leader for WSU, spent last summer in Massachusetts playing for the Wareham Gateman, learning to become a starter. He added a change-up to his repertoire and posted a 0.89 ERA in 40 1/3 innings in 12 appearances, four of which were starts.

As one of only seven upperclassmen for Lees this season, Hamilton views the summer league experience as a key building block leading into his first season as a starter.

“I wasn’t really planning to start there,” Hamilton said Wednesday, “so going there and starting and having pretty good success is a huge confidence booster for the season.”

Redshirt sophomore left-hander Damon Jones will start Saturday for the Cougars with freshman right-hander Parker McFadden starting Sunday and likely freshman right-hander Ryan Ward on Monday.

Behind the mound will be a blend of familiar and new faces playing multiple positions in the infield and outfield. Sophomore infielder Shane Matheny, who started all 56 games in 2015 for WSU, will play shortstop and third base. Senior Patrick McGrath will play third and first base, freshman Jacob Thurber will catch and play first base and redshirt junior Trek Stemp will play second base and center field.

Stemp, who appeared in 45 games as a sophomore and played against Texas State, has spent more time practicing at second heading into the season, but feels confident in both positions.

“I probably work at second more than the outfield just because second is a more technical position if you are not working in the infield all the time,” Stemp said. “To me, I don’t think it’s that hard to go from the infield to the outfield. Not taking anything from outfielders, but it’s a lot harder to field ground balls than it is to catch fly balls.”

The series opens at 6 p.m., Friday night in San Marcos, Texas, with the following three games played at 3 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday and 5 p.m. Monday. Live stats will be provided on and on Twitter @Coug_Baseball.