After a successful home stand spanning the past two weekends, WSU baseball will hit the road for an eight-game road trip beginning with a three-game series at UNLV this weekend.
The two teams have faced each other 16 times, with WSU leading the all-time series 9-7. Most recently, the Rebels took two games from the Cougs in a three game series in Pullman last year.
WSU (7-3) will send sophomore J.D. Leckenby (2-1) to the mound on Friday to kick off the series, taking on Joe Robinson (1-1) for UNLV (7-6).
On Saturday, the Cougs will start junior Kyle Swannack (1-1) and freshman Tanner Chleborad (0-0) on Sunday.
The Cougar offense came to life during their last two series, motivated in large part by the power-hitting combo of senior Derek Jones and redshirt junior Taylor Ard.
Ard and Jones both have two home runs in the season, sparking the WSU offense and putting Jones in a position to chase history.
Currently, Jones sits in tie for fourth on the WSU all time list for home runs with 34, tying him with Jim Murphy and Beay Campbell and only six home runs behind all-time leader Jeff Hooper.
This is the second year the two have hit back-to-back in the lineup and it has worked well for all involved.
“If I’m hitting behind him or he’s hitting behind me, it doesn’t really matter,"Ard said."We’re going to protect each other, so whoever is in front is going to get some good pitches to see. It helps us out a lot and helps us both do better.”
Having two big bats in the middle of the lineup can force opposing coaches into tough decisions in close games; one such situation arose in the Cougars' last series.
Jones said in the last series Ard was intentionally walked to get to him, the first time that has ever happened in college.
"It worked out for them but I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen anymore," Jones said. "It just shows there’s another guy in the lineup that can scare the coaches to make them do that.”
Early in the season the WSU bullpen has struggled to find consistency. However, the young and inexperienced staff has managed to put together some good numbers and keep the Cougars contenders in their games.
This year the bullpen has combined for a 4.25 ERA in 37 appearances spanning 42 and one-third innings pitched. The relief arms have given up 50 hits while striking out 33 and only issuing 16 walks.
“There’s been moments when I think (the pitching staff) has been really, really good and I think there’s been moments when it’s been not very good,” WSU Assistant Coach Greg Swenson said. “With them being out there for the first time doing these duties in their roles, they’re going to have to learn on the job and sometimes that means they’re going to fail.”
The series against UNLV has first pitches scheduled for 6:05 p.m. on Friday, 2:05 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday. Radio coverage of all three games can be found locally on 1150 AM and 105.3 FM with coverage beginning 20 minutes prior to first pitch.