Washington State And Gonzaga End NCAA Droughts
(With the end of the year fast approaching, we’re counting down some of the top moments from the 2009 college baseball season. We’ll have one a day through New Year’s Eve.)
The state of Washington is not exactly synonymous with college baseball, but the Washington State Cougars and Gonzaga Bulldogs did their best to change that in 2009. While Oregon State was giving that other state in the Pacific Northwest all the attention with a pair of National Championships in recent years, the Evergreen State was having trouble just getting a team to the NCAAs.
Prior to 2009 the last time the Cougars qualified for the NCAA Tournament was 1990 – the year after John Olerud finished his career in Pullman. Meanwhile, future NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton was a freshman on the hardwoods the last time the Zags sniffed the NCAA diamond all the way back in 1981. All that changed in 2009.
Washington State got off to just a 5-11 start thanks to a brutal non-conference schedule. Donnie Marbut’s squad got off to just a 5-11 start, but seven of the losses were to teams that would eventually qualify for the NCAA field themselves. The early season experience would prove invaluable once Pac 10 play began.
By the time the regular season was complete Wazzu stood at 31-23 overall, and tied a school record with the 1990 team’s 19 wins in Pac 10 play. Here’s a look at some of the other notable milestones achieved by the 2009 Cougars:
- Broke a 13-game losing streak in Tempe, AZ to Arizona State with an Apr. 12 win over #1 ASU thanks to
Michael Weber’s 8th inning home run.
- The losing streak in Tempe dated back to 2001 & the win put WSU above .500 in Pac 10 play for the first time since 1999.
- The Cougars won a series at USC to give them back-to-back series wins vs. the Trojans for the first time ever.
- WSU swept five series in 2009 (including three in Pac 10 action) all of the sweeps came on their home diamond, Bailey-Brayton Field, they had just three home sweeps in the previous 11 years combined.
- Their 3-game sweep of rival Washington to end the season was their first over the Huskies since 1984.
- Marbut’s Cougars also had 16 come from behind wins during the ’09 campaign.
- The Cougars also had a fourth straight winning season-something that hadn’t happened in Pullman since 1994
when a 35-26 record capped a run 37 straight seasons above .500.
Click play above to listen to Washington State head coach Donnie Marbut’s podcast interview with Collegebaseball360.com Editor Sean Stires. The interview was recorded right after the Cougar’s selection to the NCAA field.
After all was said and done Washington State earned its first NCAA bid since 1990, and was was sent to the Norman, OK Regional as the #3 seed. The Cougars lost 10-3 to eventual College World Series qualifier, Arkansas, in their opener. Chad Arnold struckout 10 the next day in a 3-2 elimination game win over Wichita State, and then Wazzu bowed-out the next day with a 7-2 loss to the host Sooners.
The NCAA drought for Gonzaga, which is located less than two hours south of Washington State in Eastern Washington, was even longer. 1981 was the last time the Bulldogs had gone to the NCAA postseason, but that would change in Mark Machtolf’s sixth season in Spokane.
Gonzaga got off to a 6-1 start, but then lost four straight (a streak that was started with an 8-4 setback to their Pac 10 neighbors to the north). The Zags responded with eight straight wins after that though to propel themselves to a 33-16 regular season record. Gonzaga and Washington State each won a game in head-to-head action. A third scheduled game between the two was canceled due to weather.
Among the notable achievements for Gonzaga in 2009:
- The Zags won six of seven West Coast Conference series – including two sweeps.
- Gonzaga topped the 30 win mark for the third straight season – the first time that’s happened in more than 25 years.
- Machtolf was named WCC Coach of the Year – in six seasons his 180 wins are the third-most in school history.
- Matt Fields (8-1, 3.47 ERA) became the second Bulldog ever to win WCC Pitcher of the Year accolades.
- Five Zags earned All-WCC recognition.
- Senior firstbaseman Ryan Wiegand became Gonzaga’s all-time hits leader.
- The team also set a school record when five players- A.J. Proszek, Tyson Van Winkle, Steven Ames,
Fields, and Wiegand - were taken in the June MlB draft.
The Bulldogs swept to games from Loyola Marymount in the WCC Championship Series to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since the ’81 season. They were sent to the Fullerton Regional as the #3 seed and out-slugged #2 Georgia Southern 19-10 in their opener.
Gonzaga exploded for seven first inning runs, knocking out Georgia Southern starter Chris Mederos (himself an MLB draftee) after only 2/3 of an inning. Wiegand, Anthony Synegal and Mark Castellitto each homered for the Zags. Gonzaga scored in all but one inning of the game, while every Zag scored a run and had at least one hit.
Things didn’t go as well the next two days as Gonzaga lost to eventual CWS qualifier Fullerton and Utah, but the opening round win gave Gonzaga the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 1980.
So now, after a combined 46-year NCAA drought for Gonzaga and Washington State, Mark Machtolf and Donnie Marbut each have a common goal for 2010: Repeat.
Other Top Moments Of 2009