By Nate Morley
The Portland Pilots scored twice in the top of the ninth to tie the game. It all came down to the Cougars last at bat.
Second baseman Wade Vest led off with a bunt single. Ryan Chambers moved Vest to second with a bunt sacrifice to the pitcher. Outfielder Kory Knell stepped to the plate. The right-handed Knell drove the pitch to the opposite field, scoring Vest from second. The Cougars were victorious.
It was just that kind of week for the Cougars. Everything seemed to go the Cougars” way at the Pepsi-Johnny Quik Classic. Friday”s last-chance victory over Portland was indicative of the Cougars” ability to score at will during the tournament. The Cougars won five out of six games during the tournament.
The Cougars went undefeated in the tournament until the championship game. They defeated Dallas Baptist, 6-4; Chicago State, 21-3; Fresno State, 5-3; Monmouth, 11-6 and Portland, 5-4.
Saturday, March 13, 2004, the Cougars lost a squeaker in a rematch with Fresno State, when the Bulldogs” DeAndre Miller hit a two-run triple in the ninth to end the game. The loss ended a six-game winning streak for the Cougars.
Cougars Ben Saylor and Casey Cloward were selected to the all-tournament team.
The winning streak was just what the doctor ordered for BYU, who had been struggling offensively before the tournament. The streak has helped to boost the team”s confidence.
“I think [the tournament] was a big boost in team morale,” catcher Adam Wilkes said. “I think it gives the team a lot of confidence heading into this next weekend.”
The winning streak moved the Cougars record to 10-16 on the year. Cloward said the winning streak has been important in getting the Cougars closer to their goal to getting back to .500 for the season.
“It”s just huge to be able to get the confidence and be able to put a string of wins together,” Cloward said.
The team”s bats may have finally come alive just in time for conference play that begins on Wednesday. The Cougars averaged more than nine runs a game during the tournament. Several players have said the Cougars were long overdue for a breakout performance, like the one they got at Fresno.
The tournament was highlighted by the Cougars” ability to hit the long ball. Five different players hit home runs for the team during the tournament. Cloward homered twice in the tournament and slugger Jeff Hiestand had a two home run, six RBI performance in the blowout of Chicago State. Shortstop Brandon Taylor launched his team leading fourth home run against Monmouth.
Although not everybody on the team hit home runs, the others contributed heavily to the offensive explosion.
Speedster Ryan Chambers collected three triples in three consecutive games to pace the offense. The right-side of the infield duo of Wade Vest and Tim Law extended their hitting streaks to nine and eight games respectively. When the Cougars whipped Chicago State, Taylor, Hiestand and Wilkes each had three hits in the game to lead the charge. The team demolished the Chicago State Cougars by scoring 21 runs on 14 hits with 19 RBIs.
The Cougars hope their recent success will lead to more victories in conference play.
“We hope this Fresno tournament will be the catapult that will take us right into conference play,” coach Vance Law said.
The Cougars hope to continue their winning ways when they take on UNLV at Miller Park this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The games start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at noon on Saturday.