Tuesday afternoon's WAC baseball extravaganza ended in predictable enough fashion. BYU Coach Gary Pullins, fresh from an 8-2 and 16-13 doubleheader sweep of Utah, put a wrap on things by extolling the virtues of the weather and proclaiming that "The big Cougar in the sky is happy."
Rick Sofield, Utah's coach, huddled for 15 minutes with his sorry pitching staff to deliver an opinion on their effort. "Sometimes when it counts," sighed Sofield, "it's the (pitcher's) belly button that makes the difference. It's not the fastball, it's not the breaking pitch. It's what's in the stomach."But all Sofield had in his stomach was sour lunch.
The sweep moved the Cougars 18-5 in WAC play (40-12 overall) and kept them atop the conference standings. For the Utes, it was only a matter of going after their biggest rival. Mired in sixth place, the losses left them at 8-15 in league play and 15-29 overall.
The defeats ended what was a brief run of Utah success against the Cougars. The Utes lost by a surprisingly close 11-9 score to BYU in a non-conference game at the Mesquite tournament in March. Then they opened the WAC season by stunning BYU 7-3 in Salt Lake.
But after that, the teams took different routes. Utah went into a profound slump, losing nine out of 10 games; BYU went on to win 15 straight.
"Every time I pick up the paper I shake my head when I see Utah lost to Colorado State and to Air Force. I can't believe it. They sure don't make it easy for us," said Pullins.
In truth, the Cougars had little to worry about in the opener. Right-hander John DeSilva, 12-2, flirted briefly with notching his second no-hitter of the season, before coasting to a first-game win. He blanked the Utes for 31/3 innings before delivering a solo homer to Utah's Chad Bianco in the top of the fourth.
"It crossed my mind when he came to the plate," said DeSilva, "that he was going to hit it out."
Soon it was more than a thought. However, by then the Cougars had a 4-1 lead.
BYU's Paul Cluff did most of the damage in the opener with four RBI, including a three-run homer in the sixth.
DeSilva finished with a three-hitter, allowing a double and a single in the fifth. He struck out 15 and walked just two.
DeSilva made a great afternoon out of what could have been a truly awful day. Before coming to Cougar Field he spent time in the dentist's chair, enjoying a root canal. Later, while warming up, he found he was pitching horribly. "I couldn't throw in the bullpen," he said. "But I had the feeling that if I couldn't throw well in the pen, then maybe I'd do well on the mound."
DeSilva struck out the first three batters and the Cougars chipped in three runs in the bottom of the first to give him all the lead he needed.
In the late game, the Utes came back from an 8-1 deficit to tie the score in the top of the sixth. But relievers Mike Shultis and Mark Carleton gave up four earned runs apiece, allowing the Cougars to pull out of reach.
Designated hitter Brent Brown did most of the damage by landing a grand slam in the sixth. Infielder Jeff Howes drove in four runs for the game.
The go-ahead run came on a wild pitch by Shultis with the bases full.
"We come back and make it 8-8," said Sofield. "I need somebody to come in, throw the first pitch a strike. I get a 49-foot fastball."
Lance Madsen crushed a three-run homer in the seventh for Utah.
This weekend both teams will match up against contenders for the title. BYU hosts San Diego State, 12-6 and 31-20, while Utah plays second-place Hawaii, 15-5 and 33-19.
"The winner of this (BYU-SDSU) series will be the regular-season champ," predicted Pullins.
While mentioning the upcoming series with Hawaii ("We've got the Rainbows; they've only won 706 games in a row."), Sofield continued to think about his last shot at the Cougars this year. The teams play May 10 in Salt Lake.
"We've got the Cougars one more time," he said. "We've got seniors who are dying to win. hopefully we'll send them out with a bang."