Can’t you hear the Thunder?birds?

Winners of five of six and eight of their last 11, the Swingin’ Utes return home this week for a Tuesday afternoon showdown with Southern Utah at Ute Field. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The two clubs have seen each other already this season, having split a doubleheader in early March in Cedar City. Now, about a month later, both teams come into their Tuesday-afternoon meeting with a bit of momentum.

The Utes took three of four from UVSC last week and have been playing solid baseball for the past two or three weeks, raising their record to 16-13 on the year, including 2-1 in MWC play.

“We have played well over the last three weeks, and I’m extremely happy with that,” head coach Bill Kinneberg said. “But we’re getting into the meat of our schedule now, and we’ve got two really tough trips in the next two weekends.”

Like Utah, the Thunderbirds have been impressive of late, winning three of four over the weekend and five of seven overall. In three victories over Valparaiso this weekend, SUU hurlers limited the Crusaders to just six runs.

Southern Utah now stands at 17-11 on the season, including a 12-10 slugfest victory over the Utes on March 9, in which Justin Sotelo belted a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Thunderbirds a dramatic win over their in-state foe.

The Utes won the first half of that day’s doubleheader, as Joe Mozeleski drove in three runs to pace Utah in an 11-5 victory.

Offense hasn’t been hard to come by all year for the Utes, who scored 45 runs in four contests last week. In fact, the team as a whole has been considerably better than last year’s group, which was nine games under .500 at this point last season.

“Utah is one of the tougher teams on our schedule,” SUU head coach David Eldredge said. “I think coach Kinneberg is doing a great job-he did a great job the first time he was there, and he’s doing a great job now.”

The Thunderbirds are also improved over last year’s group, which finished 26-28. This year, the team is putting more than seven runs a game on the board, with Sotelo leading the way with 24 RBI.

“They’re a much-improved ballclub over last year,” Kinneberg said.

Both Kinneberg and Eldredge said that mid-week ballgames such as Tuesday’s typically come down to which group has the better bullpen. Indeed, both teams will send relievers to the hill. Ute junior Brandon Ast gets his third start of the season, one week after yielding just two earned runs in four innings of work in an 11-6 Ute victory over UVSC.

Kinneberg expects Ast to go “three or four innings” Tuesday before the Ute bullpen takes over.

“You need your whole staff ready for the weekend. On the other hand, you want to win as many games as you can,” Kinneberg said.

Winning games in the middle of the week-without the benefit of their regular three-man rotation-hasn’t been a problem this season for the Utes, who are 3-0 on Tuesdays this season.

Like Ast, SUU junior Derek Job-playing his first season for the Thunderbirds after two years at Salt Lake Community College-gets the starting nod for the third time this spring. He has nine total appearances, registering a 1-0 record with a 9.28 ERA.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, the Utes and Thunderbirds will play once more, as they are slated to meet for the fourth time next Tuesday at Ute Field. Utah will travel to San Diego State this coming weekend and New Mexico next week as the conference season gets into full swing.

“The next two Tuesdays are important to us,” Kinneberg said, “but we’ve got to make sure we’re ready for the next two weekends.”