PROVO — BYU cleanup hitter Jackson Cluff did exactly what's expected of those who bat fourth in the lineup, knocking a two-out and bases-clearing triple to right field in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Cougars' 5-1 win over Utah Valley on Tuesday.
The game marked the home-opener for the Cougars on the season, with several fans braving the rainy conditions to come out and support the home team. Those fans were treated to a well-played game, but with a lot of missed opportunities for the Cougars, who placed runners on base in every inning, yet only had accounted for one run until Cluff stepped to the plate in the eighth.
"To see (Cluff) get that was good," said BYU coach Mike Littlewood. "Kudos to him for putting a good swing on a pitch that he liked. It was nice to see him get that."
Just prior to Cluff's hit, Littlewood noted to the third-baseman to sit on a fastball, due to the Wolverine pitcher Spenser Triplett struggling with his control from the mound. Two of the three Cougars on base were there by virtue of being hit by pitches, making Littlewood relatively certain a fastball was coming as a result.
"Coaches told me to just slow it down and look for your pitch because a couple of at-bats before I wasn't slowing things down," Cluff said. "… I was expecting a good pitch and he gave it to me."
On a night when the ball wasn't carrying much, Cluff roped the fastball squarely to right field, with UVU unable to field it cleanly before making it clear past to the fence. Three runners scored easily as the fans suddenly got loud after seeing the Cougars miss out on too many opportunities throughout the night.
The missed opportunities came too often, starting out in the very first inning when the Cougars failed to score with the bases loaded and no outs. It continued in earnest throughout, with the home team leaving 14 left on-base for the game.
"It just hasn't been tonight. It's probably been the last four games that we've felt frustrated leaving guys out there," Cluff said. "So we've just been waiting for an inning or two to put a crocked number up there and get a good knock, so I think it's going to give us a little confidence moving forward."
A Keaton Kringlen single brought Cluff home to give the Cougars a 5-1 lead heading into the top of the ninth, which was more than enough for a pitching staff that has carried the team on the early season.Comment on this story
"The pitchers are doing a great job and hopefully us, as hitters, can work off that," Cluff said. "Hopefully we can get in a groove, and I hope that we can help those pitchers out."
Earning the win for the Cougars was Reid McLaughlin, with Blake Inouye doing most of the heavy-lifting in procuring three scoreless innings. Closing things out was Drew Zimmerman, who allowed a hit but struck out two to finish things off in the top of the ninth.
With the win, BYU improves to 8-3 on the early season and will now enjoy a lengthy homestand, starting off with a four-game series against Milwaukee starting March 7.