Utes look to out-slug New Mexico in conference play

The Utes are in the midst of what baseball coach Tim Esmay calls the first conference-heavy portion of this year’s schedule.

That makes the series against New Mexico-starting Thursday at 2 p.m. at Ute Field-all the more important as they try to make their move in the Mountain West Conference standings.

The team is currently second-to last in the MWC with a 2-5 record in conference play. They are 7-17 on the season after splitting a doubleheader against Southern Utah on Tuesday.

Although UNLV and San Diego State, tied for first place in the six team conference, are relatively far ahead of the Utes with MWC records of 7-2 each, BYU sits ahead of Utah in conference play by percentage points. New Mexico, third in the conference, is only three games ahead of Utah.

“Everyone is pretty much bunched up [in the standings]…It’s a pivotal game because we’re playing at home,” Esmay said.

The teams met for the first time this season in late March when the Utes dropped two of three to Lobos.

Because he says all three games were fairly close, Esmay predicts similar finishes in all three games this weekend, where “one or two things” during the course of the game will result in the outcome.

That, most likely for the Utes, will need to be a continued revival of an offense that has produced 50 hits in its last three games.

But it won’t be an easy task, as the Lobos recognize that they sit only a game out of first place in the conference and are coming off two losses to 13th-ranked Nebraska.

Ute ace Jason Price, who will take the mound today, is coming off a win against Air Force last week in which he struck out 11. At 2-4 on the season, Price sits with a 5.67 ERA, and will face off against Lobos starter Jason Fernandez, who is 3-3 on the season with a 4.29 ERA.

After the split against Southern Utah on Tuesday, Wednesday’s practice included a lot of hitting for players who didn’t play much in the games.

Esmay is hoping for, if not expecting, a good turnout to the series this weekend.

“I would like to see some students come out…We play our first six weeks on the road. We need that home environment” as an advantage in the series, Esmay said.

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