By Brent Johnson
Legend says the number 13 is unlucky. Don”t tell that to the BYU baseball team.
Thirteen is the number of consecutive wins the Cougars now have over archrival Utah after completing a weekend three-game sweep of the Utes. BYU started off the sweep with a 7-4 victory Thursday, followed up by wins of 9-7 and 14-9 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
How does a baseball team beat its rival 13 straight times?
“I can see how it could happen in basketball if you have a dominant center, but I don”t know how it happens in baseball,” BYU head coach Vance Law said Friday night. “[Utah coach] Timmy [Esmay] must feel pretty snake bitten.”
It”s safe to say Esmay feels mauled by now. He watched as his team blew leads in two of the three games. Friday, Utah built a 6-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning with a Matt Ciaramella sacrifice fly. Then the Cougars began to chip away. In the fifth, Ben Saylor dazzled the near capacity crowd of 2,201 when he hit a long fly ball that got past Ciaramella. Saylor raced around the bases to earn an inside-the-park home run. Later, Ranger Weins came up with a clutch, game-tying two-run single with two outs in the seventh.
“It felt good,” Wiens said. “It”s been a tough season in more than one way.”
Utah quickly ripped two hits off of reliever Paul Jacinto in its half of the eighth inning. But Jacinto managed to pitch himself out of the jam. BYU scored again with two outs in the bottom half of the eighth and Jacinto struck out the side in the ninth.
The Cougars had to come from behind again on Saturday night. The Utes once again jumped to an early four-run lead. But the resilient BYU team came charging back and took the lead with a Jeff Hiestand two-run home run in the fourth. The two teams seesawed back and forth for a few innings before BYU”s Ryan Chambers hit a two-run single that fueled the Cougars” four-run seventh inning and gave them a lead they never lost. Relief pitcher J.D. Stambaugh entered the game in the sixth and retired all seven batters he faced, striking out five. Jacinto worked a scoreless ninth as the Cougars finished off the Utes, 14-9.
Law said he is happy with the way the team is coming together late in the season.
“We”re doing the little things that help,” he said. “Whether it”s a ground ball
out that scores a run, our guys are playing team baseball.”
Strong relief pitching helped the Cougars throughout the series.
“We knew we were going to have to pitch by committee today,” Law said. “I thought that J.D. Stambaugh came in and just pitched outstanding, then of course Paul [Jacinto] shut the door in the ninth.”
The Cougars have now won five of their last six. The sweep moved the Cougars to 19-25 (9-9 in Mountain West Conference). Utah dropped to 12-26 overall and 5-13 in conference play.
The Cougars remain at home next week for a three-game series with New Mexico.