PROVO — In front of the largest crowd of the season Friday night at Miller Field, the BYU baseball team got throttled by San Francisco, 9-1.
The Cougars were determined to not let that happen again Saturday afternoon, on Senior Day, in the home finale.
Except that BYU fell behind 4-0 in the top of the second inning and it looked like the Cougars could be in deep trouble again.
“It felt like (Friday) night,” said coach Mike Littlewood. "It had that feel starting off.”
But when senior Brock Hale stepped up to the plate with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, he turned things around by crushing a grand slam over the left field wall to tie the game, which the Cougars eventually won handily, 17-9.
Hale was expecting a fastball on his big blast but got a hanging curveball instead. As soon as the ball left his bat, Hale pumped his fists. He knew he had just changed the complexion of the game.
“I knew it was gone, for sure,” Hale said. “(The pitcher) just left it up and I put it out. … I was able to set the tone with a grand slam and our team did the rest.”
“It energized the entire dugout,” Littlewood said of Hale’s grand slam. “Brock stepped up and made a good adjustment at the plate and hit a hanging curveball and got us back in (the game). … We really didn’t focus up until Brock hit that home run and then it was ‘game on.’ This had a feel like we could score some runs today.”
BYU ended up leading 5-4 after two innings but the Dons answered with four runs in the top of the third to take an 8-5 advantage.
So the resilient Cougars plated six runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by Jackson Cluff’s three-run double and Mitch McIntyre’s three-run homer, to propel BYU to an 11-8 advantage.
“It was crazy, like Wild, Wild West,” Littlewood said of the scoring barrage over the first three innings.
The Cougar bullpen did its part as senior Blake Inouye, who earned the win, pitched 4 1/3 innings, faced 18 batters and gave up just five hits and one run.
“Great innings if you factor in the enormity of the game, the momentum they had, they were confident,” Littlewood said of Inouye. “They didn’t feel like we could get them out and we couldn’t. To come in and do what he did was incredible, to eat up four innings.”
“Blake really set the tone for our team,” Hale said. “I can’t say enough about what he did and what he’s done his whole career at BYU.”
McIntyre and Drew Zimmerman closed out the game by shutting out USF over the final two innings.
With the win, the Cougars improved to a 33-14 record overall and a 17-7 mark in West Coast Conference play. USF fell to 28-24 and 15-12.
Hale said his team was confident despite digging an early hole for itself.
“There are plenty of games that we’ve been down by three or four and come back and won. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory for us. But it was one of those things where we knew it was going to be a dogfight just because these guys are playing for a spot in the conference tournament. It was a little nerve-wracking but most of the guys handled it pretty well. We were ready to kind of go to war with these guys.”
The game took a little more than four hours to play. The two teams combined for 33 hits. And 16 of BYU’s 17 runs came with two outs.
“Sixteen runs with two out — that’s crazy,” Hale said.
Cluff went 4 for 5 with four hits, four runs scored and six RBIs. For the series, Hale finished 5 for 13 with two grand slams.
For Hale, it was a great way to finish his final home game in a BYU uniform.1 comment on this story
“It doesn’t really feel like the last game because we have more games and bigger games to play. But just thinking about all the games I’ve played here and all the guys I’ve played here with, I can’t say enough about it,” he said. “It’s going to be sad thinking about the fans and having this kind of environment. Playing baseball here has been a tremendous experience for me.”
BYU visits archrival Utah Tuesday before finishing the regular season with a three-game series at Santa Clara next weekend.