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WSU baseball heads into home-opener with momentum off winning road trip

Feb. 29—PULLMAN — Nathan Choate could have sworn the ball went fair.

Washington State's head baseball coach was trying to get a better angle, trying to see if catcher Will Creswell had pulled his long fly ball fair or foul, but as the 10th-inning review dragged out, he realized No. 3 TCU could probably breathe easy.

"We probably weren't gonna get the call," Choate said. "I thought it was fair. But he got all of it."

Creswell might have, but he hit the ball so far above the foul pole that umpires couldn't overturn the foul call conclusively. Two innings later, TCU walked it off with an 8-7 win in 12 innings, handing WSU a sour loss in its eighth game of the year — but one the Cougs could feel somewhat good about.

"Guys were disappointed that we lost," said Choate, the Cougs' first-year coach. "But I think they don't have any regret because they left it out there. So obviously, disappointment because we lost, like I said. But at the same time, when you compete and you leave it out there, it's hard to have regret, if you will."

"Obviously it stung a little bit, because we all knew we could win that game," said WSU closer Chase Grillo, who recorded seven strikeouts in seven innings. "But we all kept our heads up, because we didn't even play our best baseball. That's the thing to think about. At the end of the day, we're like, 'Hey, we still had some miscues. We clean that up, it's not even a close game. We're probably actually putting a hurting on them.' So that's the point where it's like, 'Hey, we got a lot to believe in.'"

In their first handful of games of the season, the Cougs have had lots of results to believe in, too. Headed into its home-opening series this weekend, a four-game set against Rhode Island starting on Friday, WSU has a 5-3 record, winning the Karbach Round Rock (Texas) Classic last weekend before falling just short against No. 3 TCU on Tuesday.

It's an encouraging start for Choate's group, which was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. Washington State took down No. 24 Kentucky on Friday and clipped Kansas a day later. WSU bowed out of the weekend with a 13-4 loss to Texas State on Sunday, but it was enough to capture the tourney title.

For the Cougs, who open Pac-12 play next weekend at home against Utah, it amounted to a promising start.

"I thought we played together as a team. I thought we played hard," said Choate, who came to WSU from Loyola Maramount, a West Coast Conference school in Los Angeles. "There was no quit. We got good starts. I thought in most of the games, we got pretty good starts from our starters, played really good defense for the most part. And then we had some timely hits when we needed them and just competed at the plate. There's still a lot of things we need to work on. But like I said, all in all, it was a pretty good road trip."

In both of WSU's wins over Kentucky and Kansas, the Cougars faced early deficits. They fell behind the Wildcats 1-0 after one inning. They watched the Jayhawks take a 2-1 lead after two innings. That's about when they piled on.

Against Kentucky, WSU took the lead thanks to a two-run triple from center fielder Nate Swarts, a senior from New Mexico. The Cougs padded it with an RBI single from left fielder Max Hartman, an RBI groundout from DH Casen Taggart. Grillo closed it out with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.

A day later, WSU was staring down the barrel of a 4-2 deficit to Kansas in the ninth inning. First baseman Joey Kramer erased it with one swing, a three-run blast.

"Off the bat, I didn't think it was gone," Kramer said after the game. "But it ended up getting out. I think the approach to that at-bat was just to fight. We were frustrated offensively, and I wanted to continue playing and get one for the team. It ended up working out."

That led WSU to its road matchup with the No. 3 Horned Frogs, who led 7-3 after five innings. In the ninth, the Cougs scored four: two-run doubles from Taggart and Kramer, a redshirt senior from California. An inning later, WSU nearly took the lead.

It didn't materialize. but WSU was a foul ball away from topping TCU, which is not a bad way to start a new season.

"Our guys were pretty disappointed — which means they know that we can win," Choate said. "But I think more than anything, it just showed that they're gonna fight and compete."