Utah took the fifth as in a seed no less than fifth in next week's Mountain West Conference tournament with a 5-3 victory over BYU Thursday night at Franklin Covey Field.
The win, coupled with a UNLV loss at Air Force, assures the Utes (23-24, 11-12) will avoid San Diego State's highly touted pitcher Stephen Strasburg in the first round.
It also extended Utah's current win streak to seven games.
"We are playing well right now. We're playing solid baseball," said head coach Bill Kinneberg. "Tonight, after the second inning, was really a good college baseball game. I think both teams really played well."
Both pitched well, he added, making it a great battle.
"This is BYU-Utah. Both teams are getting ready for the tournament," Kinneberg said. "That's the big picture here. We've got to be ready to play in the tournament. These are great, fun ball games to play. It's exciting for our kids."
Utah starter Stephen Fife (7-4) picked up the win. With several scouts on hand to watch him, the right-hander struck out six batters in 6 2/3 innings.
The Utes jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Corey Shimada led off with a homer and Cody Guymon followed with a triple. He later scored on a single by Dustin Hennis.
BYU, however, managed to even things up an inning later when Brandon Relf drove in a pair of runs with a single.
The deadlock held firm until the bottom of the fourth.
Utah retook the lead on a BYU throwing error. Cooper Blanc, who reached on a single, scored the go-ahead run.
Leading 3-2, the Utes added single scores in the fifth and sixth to pull away. The first run came on a sacrifice fly by Austen Jones, the second off a solo homer by Nick Kuroczko.
The Cougars' lone response was Kent Walton's RBI single in the seventh. BYU had an opportunity to do more damage in the eighth with runners at second and third with one out but failed to cash in. A fielder's choice at home and a strikeout put an end to the inning.
"It boils down to we didn't execute a couple of times offensively," said BYU coach Vance Law, who lamented that his team had runners on third base twice with less than two outs and didn't score. "To me, that's the name of the game. You've got to execute offensively."
Law added that starter Jake Wortham pitched well enough to win. The Cougars, though, just didn't execute well enough offensively to back him up. Wortham scattered eight hits over six-plus innings.
"We just can't afford not to execute," said Law said. "When we've got an opportunity to score runs, we've got to score runs."
Both teams stranded 10 baserunners in the contest.
BYU (21-33, 8-14) can still secure the No. 4 seed in the MWC tourney with victories over Utah today and Saturday. Based on how UNLV fares at Air Force, the Utes and Cougars could meet again in the opening round of postseason play.The series continues tonight at 6. Utah RHP Brian Budrow (5-5, 3.68 ERA) and BYU RHP Blake Torgerson (5-4, 7.05 ERA) are the scheduled starters.
SOUTHERN UTAH 6, OAKLAND 1: At Rochester, Mich., the T-Birds scored all six of its runs in the middle third of the ball game to win Game 1 of the four-game series on Thursday. The win improves the Thunderbirds to 27-25 on the year and 14-10 in The Summit League.
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