On the bright side, the Washington State baseball team finished with a winning record for the first time since 2015.
Under new coach Brian Green, the Cougars were well on their way to a breakout season when it was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.
WSU’s 9-7 record was just two wins shy of its total from all of last season, when it finished 11-42-1.
Green’s Cougs had a swagger and confidence unseen at Bailey-Brayton Field since they went 29-27 in 2015 under then-coach Donnie Marbut — the last time WSU tallied a winning record.
The grass really was looking greener with Green at the helm, but WSU will have to wait until 2021 to find out what might have been. Green was hired during the summer from New Mexico State to replace Marty Lees, who was fired after four consecutive losing seasons.
A WSU spokesman this week said the school is prohibiting athletic interviews for the time being. But Cougar pitcher Zane Mills took to Twitter to vent his frustration after hearing the Pac-12 canceled spring sports.
“I’m in complete and utter disbelief right now, I know everyone in college sports has worked way too hard for this to abruptly end everyone’s season. Please just let us play,” Mills tweeted.
Mills, a right-hander from Portland, was off to a fantastic start in 2020.
The sophomore finished with a 3-0 record, 1.44 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 25 innings. Opponents were hitting just .174 off of him.
In comparison, no WSU pitcher finished with more than two wins last season, and no starter had better than a 5.24 ERA.
The Cougs were cruising at the plate as well.
Kyle Manzardo’s .435 batting average was second in the Pac-12 and his 27 hits were first.
Behind the Coeur d’Alene native, three other Cougs were hitting above .300 — a mark WSU failed to sustain in 2019.
Newcomers like juco product Justin Van De Brake (.333 average, two grand slams) were meshing well with top returners like Manzardo and Collin Montez (four home runs, 17 RBI).
The highlights of WSU’s brief season, spanning just three weeks, include a series sweep of Niagara and a series win against Rutgers of the Big Ten.
The NCAA announced seniors in spring sports will be granted another year of eligibility. WSU has only two seniors on its roster — pitchers A.J. Block and Owen Leonard. If they choose to return next season, it could be a big boost to the rotation.
Block (2-1, 3.25 ERA, 27⅓ innings) was having a bounce-back season after going winless as WSU’s ace a year ago. Leonard (1-0, 1.04 ERA in eight innings) was a key reliever.
Another positive for the future: WSU’s “Project: BTO” is set to complete construction by the 2021 season.
The $10 million clubhouse facility will include a locker room, weight room and team meeting room along with new concessions and restrooms along the third-base side of Bailey-Brayton Field.
The future is bright for WSU baseball. It’s just put on hold for a while.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (208) 883-4624 and on Twitter at @StephanSports.