MWC teams battle for place in tournament

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    By THE SPORTS DESK

    Lace up the cleats, chalk the lines and take the field.

    With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Mountain West Conference Baseball Championships kick off today at Franklin Covey Field in Salt Lake City.

    It appears unlikely a team from the MWC will earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament as only two teams, UNLV and BYU, have winning records this season. For the entire field of teams in the tourney, the time to fight for a postseason spot is now.

    UNLV comes into the tournament as the favorite with the No. 1 seed, but only after passing up No. 2 seed BYU in the standings in the final three weeks of the regular season. A Cougar upset isn?t out of the question after BYU won the season series against UNLV 4-2.

    No. 3 seed San Diego State, who plays Air Force in the opening game of the tournament today at 11 a.m., and No. 4 New Mexico have also played strong against other teams in the MWC this season and could be the surprise team of the tourney.

    Teams can?t overlook No. 5 Utah and No. 6 Air Force, either. Utah piled up 10 conference wins this season, including three against the top three teams in the conference. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 3-3 in their past six games, including a 5-4 win over New Mexico on Saturday.

    A capsule of each team follows ?

    1. UNLV Rebels

    2005 record: 30-26 overall, 23-7 MWC

    Key notes: The Rebels will be aiming for their third straight MWC Championships title after winning it in 2003 and 2004. If UNLV wins the tournament, the three straight championships would break the MWC record. BYU won twice in a row in 2001 and 2002. ? Six different Rebel players have won the MWC Player of the Week in 2005, with pitcher Matt Luca and first baseman Chris Bonnell both earning the honor twice. ? JC Sibley broke the UNLV and MWC record with seven hits in one game earlier this season.

    2. BYU Cougars

    2005 record: 37-17-1 overall, 21-9 MWC

    Key notes: 25 of the 37 BYU wins in 2005 were come-from-behind victories. ? Third baseman Brandon Taylor hit for the cycle twice in the season, only the third player to do so in NCAA history. ? BYU set an MWC record with a .590 slugging percentage, good enough for No. 1 in the nation this season. ? The Cougars will be without the services of Adrian Molina, who suffered a broken in a car accident last week.

    3. San Diego State Aztecs

    2005 record: 23-33 overall, 17-13 MWC

    Key notes: Junior Alex Hinshaw was named MWC Pitcher of the Week in the first and third week of May. Teammate Brett Douglas earned the award last week, pitching eight scoreless innings in a 12-1 victory over BYU. ? The Aztecs entered the 2004 MWC Tournament with the No. 1 seed, but lost to No. 3 seed UNLV 6-3 in the final. ? SDSU went undefeated against first-round opponent Air Force this season, outscoring the Falcons 58-18.

    4. New Mexico Lobos

    2005 record: 25-30 overall, 15-15 MWC

    Key notes: The Lobos have averaged 8.7 runs per game in 2005. ? Jeff Grady leads the team with 15 home runs. ? New Mexico is second in the NCAA in triples, averaging .73 per game. ? The Lobos are 5-10 all-time in the MWC Championships and have never reached the title game.

    5. Utah Utes

    2005 record: 18-32 overall, 10-20 MWC

    Key notes: Pitcher Jason Price has 75 strikeouts this season. ? Utah is 1-4 all-time in first-round games at the MWC Tournament. The Utes? only first-round victory came last year, a 10-4 win over BYU. ? Utah and New Mexico, the Utes? first-round opponent, have met only once in the first round of the tournament prior to this season. The Lobos beat Utah in 2001, 7-4.

    6. Air Force Falcons

    2005 record: 9-42 overall, 4-26 MWC

    Key notes: Air Force is 3-3 in its past six games. The Falcons hit .345 as a team during that span. ? Sophomore Karl Bolt leads Air Force on offense in 2005 with a .312 average, 12 home runs and 39 RBI. ? Air Force is 3-10 all-time at the MWC Championships, including a 5-3 upset of No. 4 seed BYU last season.

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