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Upset of No. 1 Florida State Slips Away from Cougs

Baseball squad unable to hold off late-inning Seminole rally.

March 7, 1999

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The Washington State baseball team built a 3-0 lead through six innings on the No. 1 ranked Florida State baseball team behind the courageous pitching of junior Todd Meldahl. But the top-ranked Seminoles proved to be to much, scoring five runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to escape with an 8-5 come-from-behind victory over the Cougars in the final game of the 15th Annual Hormel Foods Baseball Classic in the Minneapolis Metrodome. The Cougars are now 9-4 on the season.

Meldahl, a lefty from Butte, Mont., was nearly unstoppable as he kept the potent Seminole bats in check scattering five hits through the first six innings. Until giving up a pair of runs in the seventh inning, the crafty left-hander had a string of 14 and one-third scoreless innings. In his six innings of work, Meldahl (2-0) gave up seven hits and two runs while picking up the hard fought no-decision.

"I spotted my fastball well and used my off-speed pitches effectively and just let the defense do the work," Meldahl said. "It felt great to go out there pitch so well against the top team in the nation. We proved that we can play tough with the best teams in the nation."

The Cougars threatened to score first in the third frame, but Boyd Robertson (Richland, Wash.) was called out for leaving third base early on a sacrifice fly. In the fifth the Cougs loaded the bases after a Robertson single, a fielding error, and Evan Hecker (Seattle, Wash.) hit by pitch. With the bases loaded and two outs, reserve utility player Zach Bode drove a 3-1 pitch into the gap in right-center field to clear the bases giving the Cougars a 3-0 advantage over top team in the country.

In the bottom of the seventh Florida State (16-3) jumped back into the game with a five-run inning. Tournament MVP and leading tournament hitter Marshall McDougall accounted for three of those runs with a three-run home run off WSU reliever Lanakila Niles (Pearl City, Hawai'i). McDougall ended tournament play with a .583 average and was 3-for-5 Sunday against the Cougars falling only a triple away from hitting for the cycle.

In the eighth the gutsy Cougar ballclub battled back to tie the game at five. Shawn Stevenson (Everett, Wash.) hit a two-run single up the middle scoring Robertson and Micah Banton (Honolulu, Hawai'i). On the play Banton made a great head-first slide into homeplate sneaking his hand past the FSU catcher who was blocking the plate to tie the game.

In the eighth the Seminoles showed why they are the No. 1 team in the nation connecting on a pair of leadoff extra base hits to score the eventual game-winning run. Kevin Cash opened with a double off hard-throwing reliever Reggie Rivard (Bonnyville, Alberta) and then Karl Jernigan followed with a run-scoring triple to put FSU in the lead for good. Chris Whidden (2-0) picked up the win for FSU in relief of starter Blair Varnes, and Mike DiBlasi picked up his fourth save of the year.

Rivard (1-1) took the loss for the Cougs as the normally solid Cougar bullpen gave up six runs. Freshmen Tyson Thompson (Bothell, Wash.) and Sean Donlin (Woodinville, Wash.) along with Matt O'Brien did not allow any hits or runs in their relief appearances.

At the plate for the Cougars freshman Bookie Gates (Seattle, Wash.) capped off an explosive weekend at the plate with a 2-for-5 game. For the tournament Gates was 7-for-13 (.538) with three doubles and one home run and was honored by being selected to the all-tournament team at third base. Ray Hattenburg (Spokane, Wash.), Robertson, and Stevenson also contributed two hits apiece for the Cougars.

In the last two games against No. 13 Wichita State and Florida State, WSU has held slim leads heading into the late innings giving the Cougars consecutive hearbreaking losses. The Cougars were without their leading hitter Jason Grove (.567) who is sidelined for at least two weeks with a broken thumb and now may be without Banton hurt his arm while sliding to score the fifth run.

Washington State was their own worst enemy in this one leaving 14 men on base and committing one crucial error that led to three unearned runs. The Cougars' 1-2 tournament record placed them third with Wichita State claiming the title with a 2-1 record. Next week the Cougs will face Pac-10 rival California in a three-game series at Berkeley. The three games will not count against the Pac-10 standings.

Washington State Cougars Cougar Athletic Fund