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BYU baseball falls short of series sweep over Pepperdine

Published: Saturday, March 30 2013 8:15 p.m. MDT

Three comebacks in three days proved a little too much to ask from the Cougars, though winning two of three over Pepperdine put the team on the right track.

BYU's baseball team couldn't rally from yet another early deficit at home against Pepperdine after successfully doing so on Thursday and Friday. The Cougars gave up eight runs in the first four innings, once again allowing the Waves to get off to a hot start that required BYU to play catchup the rest of the way.

This time, it didn't work. BYU twice cut the lead to three, but Jarrett Jarvis and Bret Lopez both struck out with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, cutting short the comeback attempt.

"It seemed like playing catchup with a good team like this on day three of a series when our pitching's a little light was really, really tough and hard to overcome," BYU head coach Mike Littlewood said. "I felt like we were scratching and clawing, and we could never really catch them."

A poor start by Cougar pitcher Jeff Parker put BYU down early in the season finale. Two walks and three singles allowed Pepperdine to get three early runs on the board, similar damage to Friday night's game that needed eight Cougar runs in three innings to complete a comeback victory.

BYU appeared up to the task again, matching the Waves' three runs in the bottom of the first. Jacob Hannemann led off with a single and scored after Brock Whitney drove him in with a left-field single of his own. Jarvis and Lopez added two more singles in a row to tie the game after the first inning.

Pepperdine, however, was far from done, notching a four-run fourth inning after scoring in the third, creating an 8-3 advantage.

It wasn't until BYU's fourth reliever, Matt Milke, that the Cougars were able to hold off the Waves' onslaught. Milke lasted the longest of BYU's pitchers, throwing three strikeouts and giving up three hits and a run in four innings' work.

"I tried to [stop their hitting]," Milke said. "Just try to put up zeroes if I can. That's what the bullpen's for, just keeping our team in the game."

An RBI single from former Spanish Fork High standout Hayden Nielsen and a sacrifice fly from Adam Law closed the lead to three, but the Cougars were unable to get any closer.

Littlewood, however, admitted going 2-1 against a previously hot Pepperdine team helped steady the Cougars' rough start to the season.

"Against a great Pepperdine team, we'll take the series win," Littlewood said. "I just told the guys, if we would have lost the first game and won the last two, we'd feel a lot better walking out of the clubhouse today."

The series also marked the insertion of freshman and former Mountain Crest standout Trace Hansen into the starting lineup at second base. Hansen went 2-for-4 in Friday's 10-9 comeback win, and on Saturday engineered a double play to help get BYU out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.

"We're just looking for some consistency at the plate," Littlewood said. "We know what we're going to get from Trace. He's going to put together good at-bats. When he makes outs, most of the time they're going to be on the ground. Those are some of the small things we look at. Right now, who knows if it's going to be long-term? But right now I think Trace is just being a really steady player for us. That's what we need."

Meanwhile, first baseman Brock Whitney concluded a stellar series at the plate for BYU, finishing with eight hits on 12 at-bats that produced five RBIs. Whitney, who shifted to second in the batting lineup for BYU, may see more time at his new slot in the order.

"He's a guy who works hard," Littlewood said of Whitney. "He's here three hours before the game working in the tunnels. It's just my analysis, but I think he's swinging at better pitches this series. He's getting better pitches to hit. Moving to the two-hole might be a good move.

"We need him to be good if we're going to be successful," Littlewood added.

Matt Petersen is the sports Web editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.

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