By Brent Johnson
The BYU baseball team made it look easy against an overmatched Air Force team, taking six straight games over the weekend.
The Cougars (28-28, 18-12 Mountain West Conference) are now at the .500 mark for the first time all season after winning the games Thursday, 13-3, 10-0; Friday, 17-2, 22-14; and Saturday, 10-9, 12-4. Meanwhile, Air Force (5-47, 0-28 MWC) has now lost a staggering 33 straight games and seems to be looking forward to the end of the season. BYU head coach Vance Law said that it is difficult to see such a classy group of guys struggle all year.
“It”s like [Air Force head coach] Mike [Hutcheon] said after the game, ”When you”re used to losing, you somehow find ways to lose,”” Law said. “You hate to see any time, especially a class act like Air Force, struggle the way they”ve struggled.”
The numbers from the weekend series are staggering. The Cougars compiled 84 runs on 93 hits over the series. Three of the six games were called after the seventh inning due to the 10-run mercy rule used on little league diamonds across the country. Also, the sixth and final game of the series was called after seven innings so Air Force could catch a plane.
For the most part, the victories were a team effort. BYU played home-run derby throughout the series hitting 14 over the six games. There were also some individual performances that jump off the stat sheet. Junior outfielder Kory Knell had a monster series, going 11-for-21 with five home runs and 15 RBI. Jeff Hiestand, Brandon Taylor and Kevin Bills also had multiple home runs over the series, with three, two and two homers, respectively. Bills” first home run, hit during the nightcap Friday, was a blast that traveled well over the 400-foot center-field wall, over the road and came to rest in a planter at the Marriott Center.
There was one competitive game. Saturday”s early game became a nail-biter for the Cougars. BYU trailed 9-6 in the eighth inning and was struggling to figure out Falcon soft-thrower William Goss. The Cougars scored a run after Blair Lucas doubled, moved to third on a Taylor single and scored on a wild pitch. Knell was walked, and Bills was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs in the eighth. BYU then sent sophomore outfielder Ben Saylor to the plate. Saylor was one of the few Cougar batters that had struggled throughout the series. He came up clutch with an opposite-field single that drove in two. An errant throw from left field scored the go-ahead run. Paul Jacinto closed the door on the Falcons in the ninth, earning the save. Saylor said that he received some good advice prior to his at-bat.
“Going to the plate, I felt I had a better approach,” Saylor said. “Coach [Ryan] Roberts told me that I needed to slow things down and go the other way.”
Saylor did just that, and it was the difference in the only close game of the series.
What does a team take from a six-game series against an inferior opponent?
“It gives us confidence,” Saylor said, “and gets everyone a lot of playing time.”
“It builds our confidence offensively,” he said. “I think that is something we need to do as we go into our tournament.”
The series concludes regular-season conference play for the Cougars. Next up is the conference tournament in Las Vegas. BYU will be the fourth seed and play in-state rival Utah on Wednesday, May 26.