The fire and extra competitiveness that goes along with rivalry games are sure to be in the air on Tuesday evening as the clash between the University of Utah (10-11, 1-5 Pac-12) and Brigham Young University (10-11, 1-2 WCC) baseball teams takes place. For the first time this year, the Utes and Cougars will meet on the field for the Deseret First Duel rivalry series at Smith’s Ballpark. Three games between the two programs will be played this season. The Utes will host the Cougars once more before heading down south to play at Larry Miller Field in May.
Many wonder what advantage is in taking a break from conference play to compete against in-state teams like Utah Valley and the Cougars. While these games may not seem like a big deal, they are not meaningless weekday games for the Utes. According to head coach Bill Kinneberg, these matchups matter for two very important and specific reasons — one, winning for RPI points and two, for the opportunity to play at the end of the year. These nonconference games matter even more especially if a team does not clinch the conference championship.
“In this league that we’re playing in, if you’re in the top six and you have a good nonconference record you’re going to get into the NCAA regionals,” Kinneberg explained. “And that’s the goal of every program in the Pac-12.”
The games during the week are not always the easiest, but they can be rewarding for many different reasons.
“They’re hard to play,” Kinneberg said. “You’re tired, and you’re getting ready for your weekend series and you’re coming off a big weekend series, so it’s necessary evil.”
The Utes and Cougars head into the ballgame having dropped both of their past two games. For the Utes, it was a couple stumbles against No. 11 Stanford and for the Cougars, it was Loyola Marymount who took them down and shut them out 2-0 in their most recent loss.
Freshman pitcher Jacob Rebar (2-3) will get the start for the Utes on the mound. Kinneberg said Rebar will most likely be the guy starting on Tuesdays the rest of the way. With a 5.57 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 21 innings, the left-handed pitcher holds his opponents to a .208 batting average.
“We need to get Jacob as much time as we can,” Kinneberg said. “We feel like he’s got a chance to be a special pitcher here. He just needs experience. He needs innings. He needs opportunities.”
BYU sophomore pitcher Jordan Wood (1-0) will face a Utah offense that is hitting .275 on the season, putting them in third place in the Pac-12 in batting average. The Utes started the season swinging the bats well, and Dallas Carroll has continued to do so, but down the lineup, the bats need to get going.
“The key for us is DaShawn [Keirsey, Jr.] getting on base and having runners on when he [Carroll] comes up,” Kinneberg said. “But maybe more importantly is that the four, five and six role hitters that have opportunities to score some runs for us. Those are the guys that need to get hot.”
With a four-game home stand beginning Tuesday night, the Utah offense has a perfect opportunity to get things rolling once again. In front of a loud home crowd in an intense rivalry showdown, the face-off between the Utes and the Cougars is sure to be one that nobody will want to miss. The action at the ballpark begins with first pitch at 6 p.m. MT.