Just as Utah figures out one BYU relief ace, the Cougars come up with another.
Y. righthander John Vandenburgh (4-0) shut out the Utes for the final 12/3 innings Tuesday, long enough for his teammates to score a come-from-behind 12-10 victory. Vandenburgh, the most recent WAC player of the week, has won four of the Cougars' last five games.The other half of BYU's relief tandem had less success. Ryan Hancock, the usually unhittable 18-year-old with the smoking fastball, gave up as many earned runs to the Utes - three - as he'd given up all season. He was victimized by shaky fielding, but BYU coach Gary Pullins said his freshman hurler didn't have his best stuff.
Pullins also said that while he appreciates what he's getting from the bullpen, he wishes the starting pitchers would find the groove again.
"Right now our starting pitching is struggling a little bit," he said. "We're winning with our bullpen, when early in the season our starters were pitching so well I had to create opportunities to get the bullpen work."
BYU's starter Tuesday was Rob Jensen. He went five innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits. After a shaky first inning in which he surrendered three runs, Jensen limited the Utes to one hit over the next three innings. The Cougs tied the score in the bottom of the fourth on a three-run homer by Dave Madsen, but Utah regained the lead - the first of six lead changes in this seesaw affair - in the top of the fifth. When the Cougs scored three more times in the bottom of the fifth, Pullins decided to bring in Hancock and his 1.17 ERA to protect a 6-4 lead.
It didn't work. A hit batter, a walk, a botched force-out at second and a two-run single by WAC batting leader Mike Edwards allowed the Utes to score three runs, all unearned, and retake the lead, 7-6. The Cougs scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to go ahead 8-7, but the Utes refused to give in to Hancock's heater.
With one out in the ninth and two strikes on Utah leadoff hitter Mike Aranzullo, Hancock threw a pitch that Aranzullo swung at and missed. The ball appeared to glance off catcher Blaine Milne's glove and rolled to the backstop, however, and Aranzullo ran safely to first. The play was ruled a wild pitch but looked more like a passed ball. Ute centerfielder Mike Hughes then hammered a two-run homer, putting Utah ahead 9-8. The Utes added another run in the inning, also charged to Hancock (and raising his ERA to 2.13), before Vandenburgh came on to stifle them.
In the ninth, BYU used a walk, a hit batter and run-singles by Jon Lopez and Brent Brown to give Utah reliever David Littlewood (1-6) the loss.
The victory - their sixth in a row - puts the third-place Cougars at 9-5 in WAC play (24-10 overall). A win Wednesday against Utah at Derks Field (6 p.m.) would lift the Cougars past San Diego State and into second place. The fifth-place Utes drop to 5-8 (16-26), a game and a half behind Wyoming in the chase for a WAC tournament berth.