PULLMAN - Last-place finishes in Pacific-10 Conference football and men’s basketball have made for a long year for Washington State fans, but three Olympia natives helped ease the pain of Cougars everywhere by helping the WSU baseball team knock off the top-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils, 9-5, Sunday.
“I guess if they’re No. 1, you can beat anyone in the country,” River Ridge High School graduate Connor Lambert said.
Lambert earned the win, former Olympia High star Adam Conley – a candidate for the U.S. national college team – picked up the save and Capital High product Matt Fanelli drove in a run with a pinch-hit single.
“We were kind of on a downward slide for a while,” Conley said. “I think this series was a really good jump-start for us to get back on track.”
“This is great,” Fanelli said. “This is what we needed.
“We were playing a bunch of mediocre baseball before this. I think this is going to catapult us forward.”
The Cougars (17-11, 3-3 Pac-10) edged Arizona State (28-3, 6-3) 6-5 Friday, then lost 11-7 Saturday in a sloppy performance before one of the biggest baseball crowds (3,693) in school history. Arizona State had won all 12 previous series with the Cougars.
“We played great today,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut, a former Capital High assistant, said Sunday. “We were clean on defense and walked one batter.”
U.S. tryouts loom
Conley and fellow sophomore Derek Jones, WSU’s right fielder, have received tentative invitations to the U.S. national college team tryouts this summer. The U.S. team will play in the World University Baseball Championships in Tokyo.
If Conley and Jones (Snohomish High) don’t make the national team, they’re set to join Cougar teammates Garry Kuykendall (Bonney Lake High) and David Stilley (Central Kitsap High) on the Brewster, Mass., club in the Cape Cod League.
Generally considered the top summer league in the country, the Cape Cod League has produced hundreds of major league players, including current Seattle Mariners like David Aardsma, Eric Byrnes, Rob Johnson and Sean White.
Conley, whose fastball has been clocked at 94 mph, ranks among the national leaders with six saves. In 14 games and 24 innings, he has a 3-1 record with a 1.12 earned run average, 23 strikeouts, six walks and just 15 hits allowed.
“We have no doubt when he’s out there,” said Jones, who is batting .291 with 22 RBI and a team-high five home runs.
Kuykendall, WSU’s leadoff hitter, reached base all five times up– but it wasn’t easy. Kuykendall was plunked by pitches three times, and WSU totaled six hit batters.
Lambert, Fanelli deliver
A crafty right-hander, Lambert improved to 2-0 by throwing 22/3 innings of no-hit, shutout relief.
“He’s just a workhorse,” said fellow senior Fanelli. “He battles every time.”
Fanelli is batting .273, but he’s 5-for-7 (.714) as a pinch-hitter and just 19-for-81 (.235) in his other at-bats.
Asked if he concentrates more when pinch-hitting, Fanelli said, “Not really. We always have an idea that everyone is going to get in. So if you’re not playing or starting, there’s always that mentality, ‘Who’s in there? Who am I going to face?’”