11/24/2014

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Sports

New stadium, new swagger for rising Washington baseball

SEATTLE (AP) - When the trip to sunny Arizona in February was finished and Washington was humbled by a pair of Big Ten powers and lost to a conference neighbor, Lindsay Meggs decided bluntness was the way to go.

The Huskies were about to debut a new $15 million baseball stadium in the coming weeks. And Washington's coach demanded that the product on the field match the gem of a facility the Huskies were about to christen.

"We had some guys with that mindset who in my opinion weren't on board," Meggs said. "We had some guys who didn't want to be challenged and didn't want to be pushed to the degree we needed to make them better and compete at that level. We kind of challenged them that day."

The response since that meeting? In the past 18 games, Washington has won 17, including 10 in a row.

The Huskies (20-5-1, 8-1 Pac-12) are the hottest team in the country, lead the Pac-12 by two games, have vaulted into the national rankings and are making the case that college baseball in the Pacific Northwest is more than just what's happening at Oregon and Oregon State.

Whether it's great pitching, a surge of power, or defensive gems, the Huskies are not playing like a team that was picked to finish 10th out of 11 schools in the preseason Pac-12 poll.

"This team, like I've told my family, friends, guys on our own team, this team is the team that I always hated to play against. We know how to play hard and play together," Washington center fielder Braden Bishop said. "When it comes down to it, we have that ability where we don't know how to lose. I don't know if it's because we've won however many games in a row but it just kind of seems when we hit that adverse situation in the game, we all come together and we don't turn away from each other."

Washington, ranked No. 14 this week by Baseball America, will see its win streak get a major test this weekend with a visit from No. 19 Oregon, the team picked to finish second in the league this season. It's a marquee matchup for the Huskies and another chance to show off their new facility.

The Huskies' old stadium was essentially an erector set. It was so shabby that when Washington teams of the past were good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament, they could not host regionals because the stadium did not meet standards.

The new park has seating for more than 2,200 with a grass berm down the left-field line that can handle a couple hundred more. There's a full press box and club area behind home plate, all looking out toward Lake Washington and the turf playing field. The stadium was the second piece of a three-pronged update to Washington's baseball facility that included a new team building attached to the stadium and an indoor performance center.

For a program that has produced its share of major leaguers and had the Golden Spikes Award winner in 2006 in Tim Lincecum, the facility upgrade was needed.

"The challenge for us since we've been here is it's the worst facility in the conference and that people would interpret that to mean there is not a commitment to the program across the board," Meggs said. "This answers all those questions and puts all of that to bed and gives us a chance to recruit not only the best kids in the Northwest but nationally as well."

Washington seems to understand that what the Huskies have accomplished so far is just a base. The more difficult part of the schedule begins this weekend with a series against the Ducks, with Oregon State and UCLA still to come. Meanwhile, leading hitter Brian Wolfe could be limited the next couple of weeks after getting hit on the hand.

But this blazing start has put Washington in the position that with a strong push the rest of the way and its new stadium, the Huskies could be in line to host an NCAA regional later this spring.

"The ultimate goal at the end is to win the College World Series," Wolfe said. "But it's by short term goals we're going to get there."
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