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Knights' New Pitching Coach Pays Spring Visit to Goss Stadium.

April 26, 2011

Connor Lambert of Washington State to Manage Corvallis Pitching Staff

Knights' New Pitching Coach Pays Spring Visit to Goss Stadium.

The Corvallis Knights historically field the best pitching staffs in the West Coast League.

Former Washington State stalwart Connor Lambert (pictured, credit Ethan Erickson) sees no reason to change that trend. The Knights' new pitching coach fully expects they'll continue their tradition of mound mastery this summer.

"We have quite a few arms coming in, so I think there will be a period where we see who can do it, and who can't," the current WSU graduate assistant pitching coach said last week, speaking before the WSU-Oregon State series at Goss Stadium.

"But with the guys we've brought in, there's no reason why we shouldn't have a top pitching staff."

Lambert turns 23 years of age on May 9, shortly before he graduates from WSU with a BA in sociology. He succeeds Ryan Wing, who last year mentored a Knights' staff to 31 wins, a 2.98 ERA, 391 strikeouts, 19 saves and eight shutouts, all WCL-bests. So he has some big cleats to fill, but Knights' coach Brooke Knight believes Lambert's up to the task.

"Connor is a rising star," Knight said. "It doesn't take long to figure out he might have the 'it' factor. He still has a lot to learn, and some exciting challenges ahead of him, but I'm confident he's ready to take on this endeavor.

"He commands instant respect from his peers his same age, which speaks volumes about the type of guy he is and what he brings to the table. I am excited for our entire organization that Connor has chosen to be part of our 2011 family."

A right-hander, Lambert was 5-1, 3.53 as a WSU senior and was 11-3 overall in his four seasons in Pullman. He started, pitched middle relief and closed during his high school, summer and WSU careers; he understands all three roles and thus can identify with everyone on the staff because he's already done what they'll be asked to do.

"I'm glad I got that opportunity {to learn] how to make an adjustment, from starter to reliever," he said. "That really helped me develop my routines, the different types of things you go through. The biggest jump was the mental approach, learning how to shut games down late, coming in with guys on. That really helped."

Lambert played summer ball for the Nevada (MO) Griffons in the Jayhawk League in 2007 and for the St. Cloud (MN) RiverBats in the Northwoods League in 2008 and 2009.

He understands it's a mixture of fun and work, of creating a low-stress environment but still providing the necessary structure and instruction so his charges become better pitchers and advance their careers.

"I've had summer coaches who were really laid-back, saying 'This is about you, it's your time,'" Lambert said. "I think I'll have a little bit of that, with a little bit of structure. It's good to have structure as far as your conditioning, your throwing program, because we do want to see development.

"We do want to see arm-strength grow. Coaches send their players to us to see progression, and that's what we want to preach. Summer is a time for fun, and a time for guys who didn't get to play a lot in college ball to play. There needs to be some structure to see progression, but let's have some fun doing it."

Lambert was a first-team all-state pitcher at River Ridge High School in Olympia before attending WSU, and was the Pac-9 Conference MVP, the Olympian newspaper's Player of the Year, and a member of the Tacoma News-Tribune newspaper's all-area team in 2006 as a senior.

He then headed to WSU; he lettered four seasons, helped the Cougars reach the 2009 and 2010 NCAA tournaments, and was a team captain as a senior.

"I've always felt I've been a leader on any team I've been on," he said. "I really enjoyed (2010) because I was the captain, and really enjoyed helping the young guys out. [WSU coach Donnie Marbut] approached me about being an undergraduate assistant; I gave it some thought, and said, 'Yeah, I'd really love to be around those guys again give it a shot and see what coaching is like.'

"It's really blossomed into something I want to do. I'm the bullpen coach on game days, helping them get warm. Coach Swenson [WSU pitching coach Gregg Swenson] and I (confer) about who should be pitching, what we should be doing to help the pitchers, get them on a throwing program, etc.

"It's been a real learning curve with how we've been playing this year, not as well as we've wanted to. I've learned quite a bit on how to handle the tough times and it hasn't deterred me from wanting to coach. That's a positive."

Lambert said his excellent control and mental approach - he endorses the book "Heads-up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time" by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza - helped him succeed as a player, and he hopes to share that experience with the Knights' staff.

"I had to figure out my own routine in the summer, so I can rally help a lot of the younger kids on the staff discover what system works best for them," he said. "My strength was my belief in myself. I had a three-pitch mix I could throw at any time in the count. I could throw a slider 3-0 if I wanted to.

"That's one of the things I want to help teach guys, that you should be able to throw any one of your pitches at any time. That really gets hitters off-balance."

He's checked out a few of his future charges via the Internet, but for the most part has been focused on his current job with the Cougars.

"In my free time, though, I do look [at the Knights' pitchers] and think about what I'll do with them," he said. "I won't be coming in completely blind. There's a short period, about a week, where you get to know guys and see who likes to do what," and then it's full-speed ahead.