By Nate Hanson
A disappointing three-game series this weekend for the Cougs ended with a bright star. That star came in the form of redshirt sophomore pitcher Scott Simon. Simon threw a five-hit shutout, the first by a WSU pitcher since Wade Parrish in 1999, to salvage a win in the finale of the three game series against the Utes.
WSU (17-13, 4-5) dropped the first two games of the series to Utah (14-14, 4-8) 7-4 and 2-1. Both were disheartening outcomes for a Cougs team that was looking to establish itself as an upper-tier Pac-12 team.
In Game 1 the Cougs got another strong start from their Friday night ace, Joe Pistorese, who gave up three runs, two earned, in seven innings of work. He left the game with a 4-3 lead. However, WSU reliever, Kellen Camus, gave up four runs in the eighth that allowed Utah to secure the win. It was an unexpected meltdown from Camus who came into the game with a 3-0 record out of the bullpen.
The Cougs had their chances to add to their early 4-0 lead. WSU put a runner on base each inning from the third through the eighth. Give credit to Utes sophomore hurler Mitch Watrous who scattered 12 hits, while holding the Cougs to four runs through eight innings to earn his second win of the season. Jason Monda led the Cougs going three for five with two RBI.
In Game 2, it was the Cougs’ bats that experienced an unexpected meltdown. The Cougs came into the series as the best hitting team in the Pac-12 with a .321 team batting average. Apparently Dalton Carroll of Utah didn’t get the memo. Carroll only gave up six hits and one run in 6 1/3 innings to get his record up to 3-2 in his inaugural campaign.
Shadowed by the performance of Carroll, WSU’s Tanner Chleborad put together arguably his best performance of the year. Chleborad, who came into the game with an ERA over five, gave up only two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Both runs came from the bat of Trey Nielson who homered twice, once in the fourth and again in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie. Patrick McGrath picked up the only RBI of the game for the Cougs.
WSU needed a standout performance to avoid a sweep, and it came from Simon. He struck out a career-high six in his 116 pitch performance.
“Scott got stronger as the game went on,” manager Donnie Marbut said. “I don’t want to call it a must win for us, but it was and Scott definitely put our team on his back.”
Simon, who is now 3-0 on the season, received early run support as the Cougs plated runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Adam Nelbowich, Yale Rosen, Austin Pernell and Trace Tam Sing each had an RBI to lead the balanced attack. Pernell went three for four on the day.
Despite losing two of three to a struggling Utes squad, there is still a reason for optimism moving forward. WSU’s starting pitchers gave up only four earned runs in 21 1/3 innings. Pistorese continued his all-conference season, while Chleborad and Simon each stepped up and had their best appearances of the season. Wins will come if the Cougs can consistently get three quality starts from their young pitching staff. In a conference that only has five teams above .500; the Cougs are still in the midst of competing for a high finish.
WSU will look to get another stellar pitching performance tomorrow in the finale of its four-game road trip in the Beehive State. In a battle of Cougars, BYU (17-14) will host WSU in a non-conference matchup. First pitch is scheduled for 9 a.m. Pacific. The game will be televised on BYUtv and can be heard on wsucougars.com.