By Byron Goodrich
The BYU baseball team will enter the Mountain West Conference Tournament as the third seed this week at UNLV’s Earl E. Wilson Stadium.
The Cougars will play rival, fourth-seeded Utah on May 17 at 3 p.m.
The Cougars clinched the third seed last Saturday after beating first-place New Mexico 4-1 behind Nate Fernley’s strong pitching performance.
In his first career start for the Cougars, right-handed reliever Fernley went the distance, allowing only five hits and one run on his way to posting just the sixth complete game for BYU this season.
Fernley went to work early, retiring the first 12 batters he faced. He struck out four and didn’t allow the Lobos’ high-powered offense a single hit through four innings of play.
“I felt good out there,” Fernley said. “After the first few batters, I felt like I really got into a groove.”
For the Lobos’ part, starting pitcher Brandon Wells had allowed only one hit in the first three innings. But with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, right-fielder Matt Carson and third-baseman Kainoa Obrey each singled to put runners on first and second for the Cougars.
First baseman Ty Haguewood then drove Wells’ 2-1 offering deep to center field.
“He threw me a curve ball, but he left it up a little,” Haguewood said later. “When I saw the center-fielder turn and sprint to the wall, I knew I hit it well enough.”
Both Carson and Obrey scored on the play to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
New Mexico finally got a hit in the top of the fifth, but BYU center-fielder Nick Greene quickly erased it by gunning down Dee Dennis at second base as he tried to stretch a single into a double.
Fernley allowed just two more hits over the next two innings.
The Lobos cut the Cougar lead in half when they scored their only run of the game in the top of the eighth. But BYU answered right back to extend their lead again.
With runners on first and third, short stop Seth King smacked a double off Lobo reliever Jeff Perez. The ball caromed off the wall in right center–in almost the same spot where Haguewood had hit it in the fourth–allowing Nick Day to come all the way around from first.
Fernley went on to retire the Lobos 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, catching Dennis looking on a called third strike to get the final out of the game.
With the win, BYU improved to 27-27 overall, and finished 15-15 in the Mountain West Conference.
The Cougars are confident heading into the Tournament.
“These guys know we can compete with every team in the league,” said head coach Vance Law. “I think the guys will show up in Las Vegas ready to play.”