It’s the top of the 9th inning and BYU trails 14 to 11. Bases are loaded with two outs and two strikes. The crowd is deafening as fans rise to their feet. Wes Guenther is at the plate for the Cougars. He stares down UVU pitcher Jeff Barto as he prepares to make what could be one of the biggest plays of his life.
Barto winds up and releases a fastball as Guenther cocks his shoulders and steps into the swing with enough force to send the ball careening over the wall in left field. Fans hold their breath and wait for the collision.
The bat hits nothing. The Wolverines win.
BYU competed Tuesday evening in one of the biggest non-conference games of the year against neighbor Utah Valley University. With a record attendance of more than 5,400, fans cheered on both sides in what ended as a painful loss for the Cougars. The attendance beat the previous record for a baseball game by 1,700.
“It was a very emotional game,” said BYU Assistant Coach Ryan Roberts. “Any time we play any local teams or any teams from Utah, those are games we want to win.”
The UVU baseball team came into the game with a 30-11 overall record and a win streak of 23 games, the longest in the nation. What started as a rocky season for the Wolverines (they lost eight of the first 10 games) has now become one of the winningest seasons in recent history.
As the leader of the Great West Conference, the Wolverines hope that this is the year they make it into the NCAA tournament. The GWC champion is not an automatic qualifier to the tournament, but UVU’s 16-0 record in conference play make it a good candidate for an at-large berth.
Beating BYU in the only meeting between the two teams this season put the Wolverines one step closer to being included in this year’s tournament.
The scoring started early with UVU putting up two runs in the bottom of the first inning. The Cougars responded immediately with Tanner Chauncey, a freshman from Las Vegas, Nev., hitting a home run off the first pitch of the second inning, just the second home run the Cougars have hit all season. Adam Law, a sophomore from Provo, finished up the top of the second inning with a line drive past second base that brought three runners in, putting BYU ahead four to two.
The Cougars continued to lead until the bottom of the fourth inning when UVU’s Maclain “Goose” Kallunki, a senior from Orem, hit a three run homer that propelled the Wolverines ahead of BYU eight to six. Kallunki has 13 home runs this season and leads the nation in runs batted in.
“Goose is a great hitter,” Roberts said after the game. “He’s been good for a few years, and we wanted to try to make him hit the ball the other way, but we left some balls up and didn’t make our pitches and he hit them.”
The Cougars struggled late in the game scoring zero runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. UVU also slowed down with no runs in the seventh and eighth. In the end, the game came down to the final swing of Wes Guenther.
Roberts said he thought lead off runs were what played the biggest role in the team’s loss. He said he expects his team to play better against the University of San Diego this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, games that he described as huge.
“I’m excited about how we’re going to play,” Roberts said. “We’ve got a chance to play for first place this weekend against San Diego.”
San Diego currently leads the West Coast Conference with an overall record of 33-11 and a conference record of 10-5. Thursday and Friday’s games will begin 6 p.m. and Saturday’s game will begin at noon at Larry H. Miller Field in Provo.
Admission to the game is free with the donation of a used piece of baseball equipment through the Pitch-in for Baseball foundation which donates equipment to needy countries around the world. Barrels will be present at the entrance to collect donations.