Baseball takes 2 from San Diego State

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    By Rob Weiler and Brandon Judd

    Looking for some way to get back into the Mountain West Conference race, the BYU baseball team found one against league-leading San Diego State — win two out of three in a series with clutch hitting and fielding.

    The Cougars (16-25, 6-9 MWC) defeated the Aztecs (20-22, 9-4 MWC) 7-6 in 11 innings Thursday, April 15, lost 10-6 on Friday, then won the series capper 6-5 on Saturday at Miller field.

    ?This was a really big series for us,? BYU junior Ben Saylor said. ?We knew we had to come out and get some wins.

    ?In both of our wins, there were a lot of clutch plays on defense, a lot of two-out hits, a lot of clutch hits that scored runs. We had key plays at key times.?

    Saylor?s two-run homer to left-center in the seventh inning Saturday couldn?t have been more clutch. The two-run dinger answered a run by the Aztecs in the top of the seventh and put the Cougars on top for good at 6-5. Saylor almost didn?t get the at-bat, however.

    ?Kevin Bills has been swinging the bat very well, and I almost pinch hit for Saylor there because of the lefty-righty situation,? BYU coach Vance Law said. ?And then I thought, ?You know, he hit a couple balls hard last night, and he got a knock today. Let?s just roll.? In the next couple years, he?s going to have to face the lefthanders anyway. It was a good situation, and he came through in a big way.?

    BYU took an early 3-0 lead in the second inning when the Cougars capitalized on a scoring situation with two outs. Brandon Taylor first got on base via an error on the shortstop, and was followed by consecutive singles by Tim Law, Adam Wilkes, Wade Vest and Ryan Chambers.

    ?I thought our guys did a nice job of bearing down today on every at-bat,? Law said. ?We had a lot of quality at-bats. We?re very disciplined in the strike zone. We didn?t swing at a whole lot of pitches out of the strike zone.?

    After the Aztecs scored three of their own runs in the top of the third, the Cougars took the lead back in the fourth inning. Vest hit a double to right-center, stole third, then was knocked in by Chambers on a 6-3 out.

    The BYU bullpen also had a stellar day after starter J.D. Stambaugh made it 2 1-3 innings. Lance Beus (3-1) picked up the win, and former starter Paul Jacinto got his first save of the season. Bryce Burger also came in and pitched 2 2-3 innings.

    ?Our bullpen really pitched very well today,? Law said.

    Jacinto came in during the ninth inning after San Diego State had put two men on with a walk by James Guerrero and a single by Rielly Embrey. But Jacinto got Brock Ungricht to fly out to Saylor, then got Jake McLintock to hit into a 5-3 double play to end the game.

    Vest and Jacinto also played big roles in Thursday night?s victory.

    Vest scored the winning run on a double by Taylor to beat San Diego State in l1innings.

    ?95 percent of players jog on a play like that, but Wade never plays that way,? Law said of Vest?s 11th inning base running. ?Had he not, we still might be out there playing.?

    Vest, batting at the bottom of the lineup, had three singles in five at-bats. He was not the only surprise performance of the night, as relief pitcher Jacinto earned his first win of the season.

    After being pulled from the starting lineup, Jacinto?s pitching was key down the stretch, allowing only six hits and striking out three batters in 5 2-3 innings, and he kept the Aztecs from scoring in the 10th inning with two runners on base.

    ?I hope this is something that will turn his outlook around,? Law said. ?He?s been a little bit disappointed, but I think he?s putting his record behind him, which I think was a real weight on his shoulders. I don?t think he?s approaching any game now worrying about what his record is.?

    The Cougars were able to answer San Diego State?s offensive power throughout the game to take the first of the three-game series.

    San Diego State took an early 2-0 lead after the top of the third inning, taking advantage of passed balls from BYU starting pitcher Patrick Wells in the first and third innings to move the runners to second and allow Ungricht to drive them in.

    BYU came back to tie the game after four innings by taking advantage of two Aztec fielding errors. The Cougars brought one run in on a Chambers single to score Vest in the third. Tim Law?s bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field in the fourth inning scored Rob Itri, but only after a collision at the plate forced San Diego State catcher Jordan Swaydan to cough the ball up

    Taking advantage of three hits in the fifth inning, BYU took its first lead of the game, 4-2, off an RBI double from Chambers and an RBI single from Taylor.

    But Tony Gwynn?s Aztecs came back in the top of the sixth with a trio of hits themselves, including a two-run home run from Chad Corona to regain the lead 5-4.

    San Diego State added another run in the seventh before BYU came back once again to tie it up at 6-6. Pinch hitter Bills had an RBI single and Saylor drove Itri in on a stand-up double.

    Coach Law said he was proud of the team?s competitive effort in the first of three games at home against the league-leading Aztecs.

    ?I would have been proud of this team tonight even if they lost,? Law said.

    On Friday, the Cougars fell behind early and couldn?t make up the deficit. After getting down 10-1, BYU finally responded with a five-run seventh to close the gap, but it was too little, too late.

    A three-run homer by Chambers in the seventh got the crowd of 2,505 ? the fifth-largest at Miller field ever ? to their feet. But it wasn?t enough to save the Cougars, who were stymied by Aztec starting pitcher Daryl Harang, who went 6 2-3 innings for his third win of the season.

    BYU?s Nick Lemon picked up the loss after giving up five runs on four hits and six walks in three innings.

    The two wins overshadowed the Friday loss, however, and showed the Cougars they can compete.

    ?We felt confident coming in,? Saylor said. ?We knew we could beat these guys. We?ve done a good job of staying together. We were positive coming in, and now we?re really positive going into the next series. We took two wins from a really good team.?

    Law said the two wins were just what BYU needed.

    ?Winning two out of three from San Diego State can go a long way in helping us achieve the goals that we set,? he said. ?For us to get back in the conference race, this was something we needed to win at least two out of three. This series defines the fact that they now see they can compete with anyone. That?s really what has needed to happen.?

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