By Brett Larsen
The BYU baseball team opened up Miller Park in grand style, sweeping New Mexico over the weekend, but it wasn”t easy.
The Cougars needed some late-game heroics in both Friday and Saturday”s action to win the three-game series 7-5, 11-5 and 3-2.
“We are now getting to the point where we believe we can win even when we are behind,” said BYU coach Vance Law after Saturday”s finale. “We are comfortable with the fact we can come back and win games.”
That confidence under pressure was evident on Friday. With BYU trailing 5-4 in the eighth inning, Shane Belliston belted a three-run homer over the right field fence to seal the win.
“They threw me a curveball up and luckily I got a hold of it pretty good,” said Belliston.
His game-winning blast also helped pitcher Nate Fernley improve his record to 11-1, the best mark in the NCAA.
“I didn”t have my best stuff at first, so our batters saved me,” said Fernley, who pitched all nine innings, recording seven strikeouts.
After outgunning the Lobos in the first half of Saturday”s doubleheader, the Cougars found themselves down 2-0 midway through the nightcap.
BYU scored its first run in the bottom of the fifth, when Cameron Coughlan”s single drove in Aaron Whitley. In the eighth, Coughlan tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Belliston to tie the game at 2-2, setting up a dramatic, ninth-inning finish.
After stopping the Lobos in the top of the final inning, the Cougars capitalized on a pair of New Mexico miscues.
The inning began with Jeff Hiestand reaching first on a botched throw by the Lobo infield. Lars Birkeland then walked, putting runners on first and second as Tim Law stepped to the plate. He bunted, but the throw to first sailed over the first baseman”s head, allowing pinch runner Doug Jackson to score from second for the win.
In contrast to Saturday evening”s tight affair, the earlier game had plenty of big hits.
The Cougars fell behind 5-2 early on, but came alive in the fifth when slugger Matt Carson nailed his 13th homer of the season to tie the score at five-all.
After Kainoa Obrey scored on a Brad Hales sacrifice fly, Ty Haguewood added a solo homer of his own to give BYU a 7-5 lead.
With the bases loaded in the sixth, Obrey finished the job with a grand slam off New Mexico”s Marvin Wong, his former high school teammate.
With the sweep, the Cougars extended their winning streak to nine games and improved their record to 24-14. Their 13-5 Mountain West Conference record also has them tied for the top spot in the league.
More than a thousand fans were on hand to watch each one of the games, the first ever played at Miller Park.
“This was an awesome crowd and we fed off them,” Fernley said after Friday”s win.
BYU will continue to show off its new park throughout the week. The Cougars will host Southern Utah in a pair of 4 p.m. games Monday, April 16, and Tuesday, April 17, before playing the University of Utah in a three-game series this weekend.