The Utes' baseball season came to its sorry conclusion Wednesday, and, as usual, not much seems to have changed after another year. Record?
Would you believe 17-32? OK. So you believe it. Standings? Sixth place. No surprise there, either. And, of course, the usual comparison with BYU: one-for-four.Do these figures sound familiar?
Despite an occasional flurry of promise, Utah ended its season at 10-18 in the WAC, far out of playoff running. All that was left after Wednesday's 14-2 loss to BYU in Salt Lake were the usual vows for next year.
The Cougars unloaded five home runs - four in the same inning - to chase the Utes off their own diamond. The win improved the Cougars' record to 43-14 and clinched at least a tie for first place in the final WAC standings (21-7). It also clinched a miserable summer for the Utes. "Definitely a disappointing end for the Utes, " said coach Rick Sofield. "We truly felt we were a playoff team."
There was, however, no immediate word on whose playoffs he was talking about.
Despite being out of the playoff picture long ago, Sofield gamely attempted to keep morale high through the late stages of the season. He met with some success. Last weekend Utah wrapped up a four-game series with powerful Hawaii by winning both games on Saturday. With a win on Wednesday, the Utes would have split the series with BYU - a feat that hasn't been accomplished for who knows how long. Since the Ute records are usually hidden or burned at the end of the season, nobody had any real idea.
The Utes rested their Wednesday hopes on the right arm of their best pitcher, sophomore Craig Sudbury. Sudbury went into the game with the best record (7-6) and ERA (5.26) on the team.
He left with a headache.
The Cougars built their lead to 5-0 in the first three inings, then built it to 7-0 on a Randy Wilstead home run in the top of the fourth. The lead ballooned to 11-0 when Mike Shultis relieved Sudbury, only to give up homers to Brad Eagar, Bruce Ellis and Burt Call in the fourth.
Utah got its only runs on a two-run homer by Chad Bianco in the fifth.
Bianco's homer didn't do much to close the lead, but it did open the way for a couple of half-hearted scuffles. After Bianco batted, Cougar starter John DeSilva, 14-2, brushed Brett Alvey back with a pitch. Alvey walked to the mound and the benches emptied, but no punches were thrown. The following inning, BYU's Bruce Ellis was brushed back by Utah pitcher Mark Nilson, and Ellis made a move toward the mound. Right. More bench emptying, a lot of woofing, but no fighting.
"Rookie league stuff," said BYU coach Gary Pullins, complaining of his team's actions. "I just know baseball better than the kids do. After that (near-fight), our hitting was zippo. Baseball is not a game where you go into the locker room at halftime and eat live frogs and then go kill somebody. If you got that emotionally involved in professional baseball, you'd be drained by the middle of May. Twenty-seven outs is a long time. You can't go on emotions like that. You can't keep the juices flowing for three hours."
DeSilva kept his juices flowing long enough to muzzle the Utes for five innings, allowing just the two runs. He was lifted in favor of lefty Mike Switzer, who held Utah to four hits in the last four innings. Nilson was Utah's best pitcher, allowing four hits and three runs in 3 2/3 innings.
BYU's Brad Eagar had three RBI and teammate Devin Kunz collected three hits. Utah's Travis Hansen and Mike Aranzullo collected two hits apiece.
BYU plays Thursday through Saturday in a four-game series against No. 3-ranked Wichita State before moving on to next week's WAC playoffs. With the win on Wednesday, BYU can do no worse than tie for the WAC regular-season title. Hawaii, two games back of the Cougars, must sweep a four-game series at San Diego State in order to keep BYU from winning the title outright.
Meanwhile, Sofield said his plan is to start on next year - tomorrow. "What this loss makes me do is that it puts me back on the drawing board a little quicker than I would have."
He continued, ""We came out tentative and hoping to do well instead of just leaving our guts and bones out there on the field."