Alaskan pitcher helps WSU find way back to NCAAs
Led by ace pitcher Matt Way, a native of Sitka, Alaska, an unlikely Washington State baseball team has made its way back to the NCAA regional tournament for the first time since John Olerud played for the Cougars.
Seattle Times staff reporter
WSU vs. Arkansas, Norman, Okla. 11 a.m.
PULLMAN — The byword of this Washington State baseball team is "unlikely," at least if you accepted the wisdom of Pac-10 coaches that forecast the NCAA-bound Cougars for eighth place.
Go another layer deeper, and you'll see how improbable it is that the Cougars meet Arkansas on Friday in a regional tournament.
A generation ago, a guy from Jersey named Jim went west to Alaska and a life of fishing. He worked out of a couple of different towns, ended up in Sitka on the southeastern coast and married Lesa, a descendant of the Tlingit native tribe.
Their son, 6-foot-2 Matt Way, a senior left-hander with an 8-4 record and 2.49 earned-run average, will be the starter against the 22nd-ranked Razorbacks, and any time he's out there, WSU likes its chances.
"Since about a year and a half ago, he's put himself on a mission," said WSU coach Donnie Marbut. "He works all week to be successful on Friday nights. There's a good chance you're going to win that ballgame.
"I've seen a lot of good arms around the country, and I know we're pretty lucky to have that guy going for us on Friday nights."
Actually, this one will be Friday morning, 11 a.m. Pacific, against the Razorbacks (34-22). Host Oklahoma and Wichita State are the two other teams in the double-elimination regional.
No doubt, WSU (31-23) would not have made it to the NCAA for the first time in 19 years, nor have much of a chance of advancing, without Way's decision to return for his senior season after the Giants drafted him in the 36th round a year ago.
Marbut admits he didn't think Way would stick around to see a senior year. But Way assessed the options, concluded that WSU wasn't that far from a breakthrough and that he wasn't quite ready for pro baseball.
"The college game is more of a team game," said Way. "That was something I wasn't quite ready to let go of, I don't think. I really wanted to play one more year for the Cougs, and also get a year closer to graduation."
Said Marbut, "He really made a mature, mature decision. Most kids his age just want to take a couple of dollars and start their career. He said, 'Coach, I'm ready to play in the minor leagues, but I'm not ready to play in the big leagues.' He wanted to be prepared when he came out."
Way had a 90-mph fastball, nothing exceptional, and a changeup Marbut said "guys in the big leagues would love to have." But Way wanted to equip himself with a third pitch, so he began crafting a slider-cutter that he has sprinkled into his arsenal.
Way has struck out 114 in 101-2/3 innings, and is only seven behind Aaron Sele's school season record.
"I just felt if I developed a third pitch," said Way, "it would help me hit the ground running when I got into pro ball."
"If he can develop that slider-cutter to be an average pitch and he stays healthy, I think he's going to pitch in the big leagues," Marbut said.
Way was a competitive swimmer through high school but his first love was baseball, even through the springtime of Sitka, where the annual rainfall is 86 inches.
"There was no such thing as rainouts," Way said. "You always play through it. Most of the fields are all dirt; they use something called glacier silt because it drains better.
"It could rain for three weeks straight, so you've just got to keep going."
Sitka, naturally, is well beyond the Lower 48 recruiting radar, but Way was pitching a summer game for the Seattle Shockers in Bellevue when he was spotted by WSU assistant Gregg Swenson.
In the common college baseball practice of dividing scholarships, Way gets tuition, books and summer housing, equivalent of three-quarters of a scholarship. The Cougars, headed for the NCAA tournament for the first time since the year after John Olerud left school, are considering that a bargain.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 8:27 PM
UCLA extends win streak in Pullman to 18
Furniture & home furnishings
2007 Kubota B2320 Loader Deck Blade 4WD
AKC Champion Sired English Bulldogs 2 Femal...
POST A FREE LISTING