Even though the game didn't count in the conference standings and each coach used seven pitchers mostly by design, Tuesday night's game at Franklin Covey Field was still a Utah-BYU baseball game that both sides very much wanted to win.
The Utes prevailed 8-4, thanks to six runs in the seventh and eighth innings, and got a measure of revenge for four straight losses to the Cougars last year.
"It's always nice to win," said Utah coach Bill Kinneberg, whose team improved to 7-14 on the season. "We had a good team effort all the way around. We finally got some base hits when they counted."
Because of the new Mountain West Conference baseball schedule since TCU joined the league that doesn't allow for home-and-home games, the Utes and Cougars have just one three-games series in Provo two months from now. So Tuesday's game was another non-conference contest.
Still, BYU coach Vance Law didn't want to hear any talk about the game not meaning much.
"Every time we play Utah it's a big game," he said. "It's still a great rivalry."
Kinneberg has been frustrated with his team's lack of hitting, poor fielding and inconsistent pitching for much of the season.
"We weren't making any key hits, we weren't making any key pitches and we weren't making any key plays," he said.
The Utes got all three Tuesday night, coming up with clutch hits in their final two at bats, some strong pitching and crucial plays in the field.
Trailing 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh, the Utes sent eight players to the plate and scratched out a pair of runs. Then in the top of the eighth after the Cougars loaded the bases with one out, Brett Bruneel got the Utes out of the jam with a strikeout and a flyout.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Utes finally broke it open, pushing across four runs to put the game away thanks in large part to a throwing error by pitcher Michael Ward.
After Dustin Hennis singled and Mike Mitchell was hit by a pitch, Nate Burhnam bunted toward third base. Ward fielded the ball and tried to throw out the lead runner, only to see the low throw get past third baseman Steve Parker.
Hennis scored and with two runners in scoring position, Cory Shimada singled them both in. Then Jay Brossman tripled to left center, bringing in Shimada and pushing the lead to 8-4.
The Cougars (13-8) had taken a 4-2 lead thanks to Apana Nakayama's solo home runs in the first and sixth innings and Parker's 2-run blast in the fourth.
When the Utes tied the score in the seventh, their second run came in a rather unique way.
Bret Baldwin hit a line drive that pitcher J.D. Stambaugh knocked down. The ball was right below his feet, but he spun around about three times looking for it before he finally spotted it near his toes. In the meantime, Baldwin was all the way to first base and Shimada scored.
The Utes open the MWC season Friday at New Mexico, where they'll play a three-game series. After a home game against Utah Valley Tuesday, the Utes will meet UNLV for a three game set, March 30-April 1.
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