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UVU wins conference crown

Published: Saturday, May 26 2012 8:49 p.m. MDT

Utah Valley's Taylor Berg, Jeremy Gendlek, Alex Exon and Josh Swenson celebrate after winning the Wolverines' third-straight GWC Tournament championship.

David Iba/UVU Athletics

OREM — The UVU baseball team dominated the Great West conference during the regular season and did the same in the postseason — finishing out its conference run undefeated with a 10-6 win over Houston Baptist in the Great West conference championship game on Saturday.

Led by tournament MVP Billy Burgess' clutch hitting and some key pitching from Jeremy Gendlek and Josh Swenson, the Wolverines dispatched the Huskies to win their third straight conference championship. It was also their 40th win out of their last 41 games — a feat that players and coaches hope earns them an at-large bid to postseason regionals.

Second-baseman Cole Butcher recorded the final out — snaring a line drive off the bat of Corey Hail for the third and final out. A big green pile formed over Butcher after the out as UVU's bench cleared to celebrate the win.

"Going undefeated in conference and finishing out like this as a senior — it feels incredible," said Josh Swenson. "We've had an amazing year which is the way you want to finish out as a player — in front of all your fans and family — it just feels amazing right now."

UVU fell behind early 3-0 after consecutive RBI singles from Josh Foust and Collin Hetzler in the bottom of the second inning. The Wolverines proceeded to chip away at the lead, eventually taking a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth courtesy of an RBI single from Willie Pratt.

Houston Baptist tied it up in the bottom of the seventh shortly after UVU coaches pulled starting pitcher Jeremy Gendlek. With the bases loaded and two outs, Coach Eric Madsen called Swenson out of the bullpen to get out of the jam.

"That's a tough situation to be in and I won't lie — I was nervous, but fortunately I got the batter to pop out," said Swenson.

With Houston Baptist missing its opportunity in the inning, UVU didn't miss any opportunity in the eighth, scoring five runs in the inning. Burgess keyed the big inning with a two-run home run that gave the Wolverines the lead for good.

"The whole game we were hitting it hard — we were getting to (the pitcher), but we couldn't get anything to fall," said Burgess. "That first pitch of that at bat — the one I hit — he'd been throwing me that same pitch in every previous at bats, so I was looking for it and fortunately I hit it to a spot where the wind couldn't get it."

Jake Rickenbach finished out the eighth inning scoring with a two-run single.

Although they weren't perfect on the mound, Coach Eric Madsen was quick to credit both Swenson and Gendlik as the keys to the game for continually themselves out of jams.

"Our guys have stayed together all year," said Madsen. "They trust each other and they trust our approach and what we're trying to do. They just did an excellent job of not panicking and doing what they've done all year."

With the conference championship secured, UVU now waits to an invite to the NCAA regionals — a berth it feels very entitled to. With a resume that includes an undefeated conference record and 40 wins in its last 41 games, Madsen strongly argued his team's case.

"What our team has accomplished is incredible," said Madsen. "They've done everything they've had to do and winning 40 out of 41 games is unheard of, so people that worry about just one (loss in the final stretch) aren't very intelligent."

UVU will learn its fate this coming Monday around 10 a.m. when the regional berths are announced.

email: bgurney@desnews.com

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