Before Washington State University’s baseball team would reach the NCAA playoffs for the first time in 19 years, Cougars coach Donnie Marbut first had to come to South Sound.
It was here that Marbut found three pitchers and a utility player he needed to help build a team that would place second in the Pacific-10 Conference, finishing 33-25 overall and 19-8 in the league. The Cougars’ journey to the NCAA tournament went through Olympia.
Seth Harvey and Connor Lambert, a pair of River Ridge High School grads, and Adam Conley, an Olympia graduate drafted by the Minnesota Twins last spring, were the pitchers that helped WSU finish with a 4.34 earned-run average. Matt Fanelli, a Capital graduate with a vacuum for a glove, played first base and outfield, starting 21 games and playing in 45.
Marbut, an Aberdeen native who was an assistant coach at Capital in 1998, doesn’t expect this to be a one-year fling.
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“We feel better about next year than this year. We’re building depth in the program,” said Marbut, who has turned a loser into a winner in his five years at WSU. “We have a lot of experience coming back. Our kids will have more reasons to believe now that we’ve actually broken through to the playoffs.”
Conley, a slender freshman with a 90 mph fastball, became WSU’s top middle reliever. He appeared in 25 games, second-most on the team, and threw 372/3 innings, fifth-most on the team. Coming out of the bullpen was an adjustment.
“It was different,” Conley said. “I’ve been a starter my whole life. I’m used to one appearance a week and see how far I can go.”
Conley started five games, then was moved to the bullpen. In his longest relief appearance, he threw three innings against Washington, giving up one run on one hit.
“It wasn’t so much my arm as it was being mentally ready to pitch coming out of the bullpen,” Conley said.
Conley finished with a 5.97 ERA, giving up 25 earned runs, striking out 26 and walking 13.
“The sky is the limit for Adam,” Marbut said. “He could be our Friday-night starter. Or, he could be our closer. When he gets all three pitches, look out.”
WSU’s season came to an end Sunday when it lost 7-2 to Oklahoma, one game from the double-elimination round. Marbut stuck with his Olympia connection that game, pitching Lambert, Conley and Harvey in relief. Oklahoma’s Aaron Baker belted Conley’s first pitch for a monstrous grand slam. Harvey struck out the side in the eighth inning.
Fanelli, as a spot starter, batted .258.
“Matt had a solid year,” Marbut said. “He was a role player, a good player. … I see him having a bigger role next year as a senior.”
Conley will head for New Hampshire later this month to play summer ball. He’ll work on developing a change-up and perfecting his slider.
“Our goal is to get back to the playoffs next year,” Conley said.
Saint Martin’s reloads
Four starting seniors left. Four new players have been signed.
Saint Martin’s men’s basketball coach Keith Cooper hopes he plugged the hole in this year’s team that finished 22-8 and was ranked as high as 13th nationally.
Cooper signed 6-foot-11 Matt Dodson of Eugene, Ore., and three guards – Ryan Votaw of Toledo, Roger O’Neill of Lynnwood and Eric Taylor of Ballard.
Dodson averaged 15 points per game and was first-team all-state in Oregon’s Class 5A.
Votaw averaged 23 points and was named Washington’s 1A state player of the year in 2007. After high school, he played one season at Wenatchee Valley Community College, averaging 14 points, and redshirted one year at Idaho.
O’Neill, a 6-4 guard, averaged 18 points and was second-team all-state at Meadowdale High School, which placed sixth in the 3A state tournament.
Taylor averaged 15 points and was first-team all-KingCo.
“With four good young players, we have not only added depth to our roster but also brought in four quality players who will develop and continue to allow us to replace our graduates from within our own program,” Cooper said.
Champlin in JUCO World Series
Kramer Champlin, an Olympia grad and a freshman pitcher for Western Nevada College, was a key in the Wildcats’ third-place finish at the JUCO World Series.
Champlin made three appearances in the seven-day tournament in Grand Junction, Colo.
He pitched 3 innings in relief and gave up no runs and no hits in Western Nevada’s first game of the tournament, a 4-3 loss to Howard. Champlin threw another 3 innings against Middle Georgia, allowing two runs in an 11-6 win.
And he allowed three earned runs in two innings of relief in a rematch against Howard. The Wildcats lost, 11-3, and were eliminated after going 3-2 in the tournament.
Champlin finished the season 8-1, with six saves and a 1.39 ERA.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443