Ute baseball Coach Rick Sofield was unconsoled. He had split his home opener Saturday against Northern Colorado, winning the first game 13-12 and dropping the second 5-2.
But Sofield hadn't had a split in mind when the Utes took the field. He was thinking sweep. "No. No, no, no, no, no. I'm not pleased with the split at all," said Sofield.The Utes overcame a 5-0 deficit in the opener to register their victory, but couldn't deliver on a late-game rally attempt in the nightcap. Utah comes into today's single game at 10 a.m. with an 8-16 mark while Northern Colorado went to 8-13.
Utah began the weekend series with hopes of gaining momentum for Tuesday's WAC game against BYU. Utah had returned from San Diego State with a split in four games against the talented Aztecs. But instead of romping over the Bears, they came close to losing two.
After building an 11-5 lead, they closed the door in the top of the seventh, but not until UNC had pulled to within a run. Pinch hitter Chad Oleson lifted a monster home run with a man on, but reliever Derek Staley retired the next three batters to preserve the win.
`It was like a basketball game," said Sofield. "Whoever hit the last home run would win."
Utah's most consistent starter, Craig Sudbury, began the game like a wobbly wheel, allowing five first-inning runs. He lasted through two innings before being lifted in favor of Paul Barton. Sudbury, who led the team in innings pitched going into the contest, made his exit with five runs, four hits and two walks on his tab. "Sudbury did not come out the way Sudbury has been coming out all year," said Sofield. "He wasn't ready today. He thinks, heck, I did it against San Diego State, I did it against UNLV, this is just Northern Colorado.
"I think he learned a lesson today. I hope he learned a lesson. He's got to learn to compete like he's playing the No. 2 team in America every time he comes out."
Sudbury contended it wasn't a matter of being mentally ready. "I just didn't have any movement," he said. "I worked harder than I have all year in the bullpen. But if your pitch doesn't have any movement, it's just a straight ball and it's easy to hit."
Utah's Lance Madsen led the way in the opener with three hits, including a homer, triple and four RBI. The Utes tied the score with a pair of runs in the third and moved ahead 11-5 with a six-run fourth. The security runs came in the sixth when they scored twice, thanks to a pair of UNC errors.
In the nightcap the teams battled to a 2-2 tie, but the Bears got a run on Jeff Knabenshue's RBI double in the fifth. UNC's Steve Thomas homered off Ute starter Don Emery in the seventh and another run scored on an error.
Utah mounted a rally by putting two men on in the last of the seventh, but Mike Aranzullo, Lance Madsen and Travis Hansen went out in order. Madsen, Utah's top hitter, popped out and Hansen flew out to first base.
"We were in a good spot to win it and that's why we have Madsen hitting in that spot (No. 1 in the lineup)," said Sofield. "We've been doing it all year so we'd have the chance to tie or win it, but he pops up. Heck, he's human. But we'll do it again, and have him in that spot next Tuesday (against BYU) and the Tuesday after that, and the Tuesday after that."