Ravell Call, Deseret News
Utah will need to replace graduating catcher Jesse Shriner, right.

Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg says he has "mixed feelings" about the Utes' 2008 season.

Despite being excited about his team's third-place finish in the Mountain West Conference tournament — the best in program history — Kinneberg insists there's still work to do.

The Utes, he added, simply have to get better.

And odds are they will.

After winning 10 of its final 14 games, Utah's future looks bright.

"I thought we were playing our best baseball. ... Hopefully it's a learning situation for our freshman and our first-year guys," Kinneberg said. "So I think I'm more excited to get going in the fall than I've ever been. Hopefully that will pay big dividends for us."

Pitcher Brian Budrow, second baseman Corey Shimada, shortstop Michael Beltran and first baseman Austin Jones headline the cast of returning players. They form a solid foundation that should keep the Utes (26-28) competitive again.

The 2008 season, however, wasn't totally smooth. There were some peaks and valleys along the way.

After opening the campaign with seven consecutive losses, Utah eventually got back on track. The Utes wound up defeating Portland, New Mexico State and Indiana to reach the finals of the Pepsi Johnny Quick tournament in Fresno, Calif.

Kinneberg considers it one of the team's biggest accomplishments.

Other highlights include winning three of five games against rival BYU and sweeping a twinbill at the MWC tourney — eliminating UNLV (7-4) and San Diego State (1-0) to join TCU and New Mexico in the final three.

Pitcher John James, designated hitter Cody Guymon and outfielder Dustin Hennis represented Utah on the all-tournament team.

All in all, Kinneberg noted, a positive experience for the program.

It capped a season where the Utes wound up leading the conference in batting average (.323), slugging percentage (.475) and on-base percentage (.395). They had a league-high eight players with batting averages in excess of .300.

Pitchers also has success. Starters Stephen Fife and Brian Budrow teamed to strike out 151 batters. Reliever Robert Chimpsky tied the school-record with nine saves.

While most of the stars return next season, Utah will have some big shoes to fill. The Utes must replace their top pitcher and leading hitter, both of whom were first-team, all-conference honorees.

Fife (7-5) was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the third round, and Guymon (.383 batting average) is leaving to serve an LDS Church mission. Graduating seniors Jesse Shriner and outfielder Dustin Hennis are other notable departures.

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