Q&A With Donnie Marbut
For the first time since 1990, the Washington State University baseball team appeared in the 2009 NCAA Division I Championship. The Cougars finished second in the Pac-10 with a 19-8 conference mark, and were one of 34 at-large recipients to the 64-team field. WSU finished the season with an overall record of 32-25. The Cougars' 3-2 victory against Wichita State was their first in the NCAA postseason since 1990 when they knocked off Pennsylvania 8-2. It was the 15th NCAA postseason appearance for WSU. The Cougars have made four College World Series appearances (1950, 1956, 1965, 1976) and their best finish is national runner-up in 1950.
Among the numerous topics covered in the following Q&A, exclusively in Butch's Beat, Cougar Head Coach Donnie Marbut talks about the NCAA Championship, the great moments from the season and the team's success in the classroom.
Now that you've had some time to reflect, what are your thoughts on the program's future?
"It's nice to reflect now and have some time to decompress. You want more. It was definitely a good start, but I don't think this was the pinnacle for Cougar Baseball. This is something that we want to happen on a year-to-year basis for us. We think we can be a regional type team and have the opportunity to give ourselves a chance to compete in that top half of the Pac-10."
What is the right type of player for Cougar Baseball?
"First, he's got to be physically talented enough to play in this league. You can't just take the average or below average player and have success in this league, he's got to be physically gifted. To play at Washington State you have to have that grinding, blue-collar mentality. I think we have that. If you look at some of our players -- the Jared Princes of the world, the Matt Ways, the Jeremy Johnsons -- we've had kids who battled injuries; we've had kids who maybe weren't the high-profile type guys, but they developed themselves into great players. We are going to get the high-profile players, no question, but on a continuous basis we need to have that. "When I first got here, I looked at football and guys that maybe weren't the highest-profile guys in the country like Erik Coleman, Jason David, Will Derting. Who was going to be our Jason David, who was going to be our Erik Coleman, who was going to be our Will Derting? The Greg Lagreids, and the Matt Ways, and the Jared Princes, and the Jeremy Johnsons, those guys turned into our guys and it didn't happen overnight. It took some time. I think with the success we'll be able to attract the higher profile player, but our bread and butter are guys who are Cougs."
Please share your thoughts on the NCAA selection.
"I was really happy with our draw. From one to four it was one of the toughest. Very rarely, are you going to see a Wichita State team as a four or a second place Pac-10 team as a three. I thought it was one of the toughest regions, but we were familiar with those clubs. We played three tight games against Arkansas, though all losses, three tight ones. We beat Oklahoma twice so we felt like we were in a good position. Obviously, the way we played there we knew we were in a good position, we just didn't do enough on that weekend to put us over the top."
What did you learn from this season?
"The first thing I learned was that the Cougs belong there. We do belong there. We're good enough. The other thing I learned is that we're not that far off. We're not that much different than the eight teams that played in the College World Series. I think the experience that our kids had in our program is invaluable. I don't think our guys were in awe at all, I think our guys went there to win an NCAA Tournament and win that regional. Arkansas and Oklahoma just played better. You just have to tip your hat to those two clubs. You have to win that first game and we were right where we wanted to be and it just didn't work out for us."
What were the great moments of the season?
"The way our guys came back and responded in that loser out game (against Wichita State) I thought that showed the character of what our team is about. Our bullpen was awesome. Jeremy Johnson, Adam Conley, those guys got us there. Obviously we didn't have a great Friday, but for them to come back on Saturday and do what they needed to do and respond, for me that was one of the best moments of the season. "There are a lot of great moments; there were a lot of great things to happen for our kids. Some of the first things to look at are guys that have been injured, guys who have had to deal with adversity: Jared Prince has been battling injuries for a couple of years, Jeremy Johnson, Jay Ponciano. Some of the guys who were really huge down the stretch for us were battling injuries. Greg Lagreid, he was put together with duct tape; Alex Burg was playing on one leg, Cody Bartlett was playing on one leg. They were playing as hard as they could and that is something I will never forget."
Your thoughts on the draft?
"The draft is the best day and the worst day for me. When those guys are selected I am so happy for them. The sad part is you know they are gone. You can accept it when they're seniors. You are happy for them if they're juniors too and they're selected in the right round. Then you have to start worrying about high school and those future Cougs. You do know that the best route for those kids is going through college, and obviously the best route for the Cougs is for those high school kids to show up and go to college. It's a bittersweet day, that's for sure."
Greg Lagreid earned Pac-10 Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year accolades, the second straight season a player from your program has earned that honor (Jayson Miller). In addition, your program had its best academic year ever --2.89 fall semester and 2.86 spring semester GPAs for a 2.875 average. Please talk about the academic success of your program.
"Since we've been here, academics is one thing we have focused on. I firmly believe that if a guy works his tail off in the classroom I will guarantee he'll work hard in the field. I have never coached a guy who was lazy on the field that worked hard in the classroom. You work hard in the classroom you'll work hard in the field. I think it spills over. Our guys are committed to doing it the right way: in the classroom, on the field, and in the community."
Any final thoughts?
"I want to thank the Coug fans. When we took this program over four years ago, this wasn't a pipe dream to us. It was something we knew was going to happen, but I can understand it was really far-fetched for people to believe based on where we were at. We appreciate the support and sticking with us through the good times and the bad times. They haven't all been rosy. There's been some tough times the last four plus years. Thank you for all of the support.
"I want to thank the seniors, the guys who put us in this position. We lost some good baseball players, but we gained some great Cougs. Every player that left here, they're part of that Coug family. We lost players but we gained alumni."
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