College baseball: Cougars claim 9-8 win over rival Utes

By Sam Strong

For The Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 11:28 p.m. MDT

BYU's #11 Brock Whitney, right, misses the ball as Utah's #7 Tyler Relf runs for second base as BYU and Utah play Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been 90 years since BYU and Utah were in different conferences.

And in the top of the first inning of this season's initial matchup on the baseball diamond at Spring Mobile Ballpark, it was clear that the shift in conference affiliation has changed the complexion of the rivalry game forever.

The Cougars won a 9-8 decision over the Utes, but it didn't come without a few hiccups along the way for both teams.

Utah starter Ben Mordini got the Utes off to a slow start by issuing three walks in the first inning. Shaky defense on both sides — six combined errors — paved the way for an offensive showcase, as both teams had totaled double-digit hits by the fifth inning. Utah surrendered four unearned runs while BYU's combination of six pitchers hit five Utah batters with pitches.

These are the types of games Ute and Cougar fans will have to get used to.

When both teams played in the Mountain West Conference, three-game weekend series were the norm, with the occasional weekday game coming at some other point in the season.

But with the Utes (7-16) making the jump to the Pac-12 and the Cougars (10-9) joining the West Coast Conference, scheduling a non-conference weekend series became an issue — thanks in part to Utah's sporadic spring weather patterns.

The solution? Three non-consecutive, non-conference games, the first of which took place Tuesday. The rivals will meet again next Tuesday at Spring Mobile and a final time on April 17 at Larry H. Miller Field in Provo.

The problem with midweek games in college baseball is, on the whole, neither team is getting the other's best shot. A team's three best starters are generally gearing up for the weekend and coaches generally like to give time to lesser-used players during the week.

Utah coach Bill Kinneberg said the game hasn't lost any value despite the move.

"It's a Tuesday ballgame but it's still BYU and it's still a big game for us," he said. "Tuesday games are a necessity and it's really a bonus to play BYU on Tuesdays now because it's close, you don't have to travel and it's a great rivalry. Our guys are going to play and play hard. It's always going to be a good game."

Mordini had not pitched in almost a month and came in with an ERA nearing 19 while his BYU counterpart, Matt Milke, was making his first start as a Cougar. Four Ute infielders were playing out of position because senior shortstop James Brooks was out nursing a minor injury. His replacement, junior infielder Ryan Cooperstone, committed three of Utah's five errors.

"We're beat up," Kinneberg said. "Brooks is day-to-day and when he's out of the lineup, it hurts us. That put us completely out of position today but we made a lot of routine errors whether they were out of position or not. Those were routine plays that should have been made."

To make things worse for the Utes, senior rightfielder Gavin Green, making just his fifth start, was tagged out at second in the bottom of the seventh under the assumption that there were three outs rather than two.

Regardless of the quality of play, the teams' respective offenses took the game down to the wire in a game that saw four lead changes. Utah couldn't mount a ninth-inning rally as BYU freshman reliever Mason Marshall earned the save.

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