By W Kolditz
The BYU baseball team destroyed the Air Force Academy in Provo in 17-2 and 22-6 victories on Friday April 11 and Saturday April 12.
The Cougars (17-16, 9-6) outscored the Falcons 48-10 in the three-game series sweep.
“With what they represent and all that”s going on in the world, I admire them greatly,” said BYU coach Vance Law. “It”s tough to see a team struggle like that, especially when you know they”ve got friends and perhaps family who are fighting for our freedom.”
The 22 runs scored by the Cougars on Saturday are the most runs ever scored by BYU at Larry H. Miller Field and are the most runs the Cougars have scored since 1998, when they beat Air Force at home, 26-4.
“You never expect to have these kinds of blowouts,” Law said. “You hope your guys will compete well and play well. We expected to win the series. You hate to say you expect to sweep, but we really did. It”s really tough to coach these types of ball games because you don”t want to rub it in.”
The Cougars know what it means to have a team run up the score. Earlier in the year against Arizona, the Wildcats beat the Cougars 32-3. Law said the team deliberately rubbed it in hard against the Cougars. As a result, Law said he makes a conscious effort to be respectful to the opposing team (unless they play Arizona in the future), but still honor the game of baseball in blowouts like the two over the weekend.
“I”m not going to make a farce of the game,” Law said. “If somebody hits a fly ball, I”m not going to hold the runner. My guy has executed, and he”s going to get rewarded for doing what he”s supposed to do. That”s baseball.”
The Falcons have now been swept by every team in the conference. They are 0-14 in the conference and 11-23 overall.
“I”ve been on losing teams too,” said senior first baseman Jake Stubblefield. “I can feel their pain. Last year, they had three senior pitchers that threw every game for them. They lost them all. Sometimes you just got to rebuild your program.”
With the bases loaded in the first inning on Friday, Stubblefield broke a one-for-11 three-game slump by hitting a hanging slider for a grand slam off the scoreboard in left field. The team-leading seventh home run of the season for Stubblefield was the Cougars” first grand slam of the year and gave them a 4-0 lead.
“I didn”t hit the ball well in those 11 at-bats,” Stubblefield said. “I”m starting to get back on track and hitting the ball solid. I knew he (the pitcher) was going to come in and challenge me. It was just a matter of seeing the ball and hitting the ball hard.”
Stubblefield finished two-for-four in the game and led the Cougars with six RBIs.
“He”s been arguably our best hitter all year,” Law said. “There”s a reason he”s in there every day at the five slot, because he drives guys in.”
The Cougars went on to score three runs in the third, four runs in the fifth and six runs in the eighth in their 17-2 victory.
“The three aspects of the game are pitching, hitting and defense,” Stubblefield said. “Obviously, everything was on tonight with our high run production and their low run production. When you have all three, it”s tough to lose the game. Usually, if you have two of them, you”re going to be successful.”
It was more of the same old routine for BYU junior pitcher Paul Jacinto (5-4, 4.12). He teamed up with freshman Tyler Heid and senior Tyler Dabo for a three-hit performance against the Falcons.
“I certainly don”t expect three or four hitters with metal bats, because you can get fisted and get three or four hits an inning,” Law said.
Jacinto pitched seven innings, allowing two runs and striking out four.
“He was dominant again,” Law said. “He”s really learning how to pitch and growing in confidence every start. Because of that confidence, he”s becoming one of the dominant pitchers around. He”s been exceptional all year long. Now we”re finally scoring some runs for him.”
Heid and Dabo pitched perfect eighth and ninth innings respectively. The two struck out five of the six batters faced in the two innings.
Freshman pitcher Paul Vigola (5-3, 7.62) suffered the loss for the Falcons. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing 10 runs off nine hits while striking out four.
The two Falcon runs were made in the seventh inning off a walk and two doubles. Their only other hit in the game was a single in the third inning.
Junior shortstop Ranger Wiens made an incredible diving stop at shortstop in the third inning with a runner on first base. The Falcon batter hit the ball sharply to the right of Wiens, who dived, stopped the ball and threw in time to second to get the runner out at second.
Afterwards, Wiens was in obvious pain, rubbing his knee in between every pitch. He managed to stay in the game and went two-for-four.
“It was a critical part of the game,” Law said. “He”s still got 15 stitches in the knee and he”s still bruised up really good. He”s well enough he can make the dive. One of the reasons he didn”t play in one of the games in San Diego is because he didn”t slide. If he”s too hurt to slide, he”s too hurt to play. But he assures me that he”s ok and he”ll slide and he”ll dive. He”s a tough kid.”
In the first inning on Saturday, the Falcons took their first lead in the series with an RBI double by Mountain West Conference batting leader, senior left fielder Josh Phifer.
The lead didn”t last long. The Cougars scored nine runs off nine hits in their half of the first.
Sophomore pitcher Ken Hodgson (0-4, 9.96) didn”t record an out before being pulled after giving up seven runs.
The first three batters in the Cougar lineup all had two hits a piece in the first inning alone. One of those batters was sophomore right fielder Ryan Chambers, who went two-for-three in the game and increased his season-high hitting streak to 17 games.
Freshman pitcher Ken Gravley (3-1, 4.70) earned the victory for the Cougars after pitching three innings and allowing one unearned run.
True freshman first baseman/pitcher Clayton Barnes accomplished a rare feat in Saturday”s game. He replaced Stubblefield in the fifth inning at first base and went two-for-two with a double before pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
A native of Provo, local little league admirers commented to one another that Barnes is better than Randy Johnson, because he can hit too.
“I remember being in their shoes coming out and watching these guys play too,” Barnes said. “That”s exactly how I felt. I”m just thankful to have the opportunity. It”s just an amazing feeling to know that a lot of people are behind me. I want to perform the best I can for them.”
The Cougars finish their seven-game home stand with a three-game series against New Mexico beginning Thursday.
On Saturday, April 19, the Cougars will honor during the game the 1983 baseball team. They are the only BYU baseball team to be ranked No. 1 in the country during the season. The team included six future major league players, including Wally Joyner, Cory Snyder and Rick Aguilera.