Three strikes

The first weekend of the season has come and gone, and the U baseball team is still waiting for its first victory.

The Utes traveled to the much-warmer climate of Santa Clara, Calif. over the weekend, where they met their match against the Santa Clara Broncos, who pulled off a clean sweep to send Utah back home winless.

The Utes dropped two games by just one run, fighting their way back after dropping behind early both times before eventually falling. The high-powered offense that has been able to carry the Utes in seasons past–particularly last year–was nowhere to be found this weekend. The team scored just seven runs in three games and led for a grand total of one half-inning.

Though the bullpen, a major Achilles’ heel during the latter part of 2006, held firm with two strong showings on Saturday and Sunday, it was the lack of offensive firepower that prevented the Utes from overcoming their early deficits. Of course, as is often the case with college clubs this early in the season, that likely has as much to do with the new look of the lineup as anything else.

Gone is 2006 All-American Ryan Khoury, last year’s star shortstop who was not only the team’s top regular-season run producer but did pretty much everything–and from the top spot in the lineup, no less, setting the table for the rest of the lineup. He was the engine that made the Utes go last season, and the chemistry and cohesiveness the team got so used to last year hasn’t yet caught on. Head coach Bill Kinneberg is breaking in a group of new players into his offensive nucleus, including new leadoff man Nate Burnham (who takes over in center field) and Khoury’s replacement in the infield, Corey Shimada, a sophomore who played in the outfield last season.

Also filling in is Scottsdale Community College transfer Nick Lowery, who will split time at second base, outfield and even back Shimada up at short. Even the returning players are facing new roles. Three-time all-MWC selection Jay Brossman is moving back to his natural position of third base after one year on the opposite corner, while Erich Kemp is moving over to first.

The Utes couldn’t sustain many long innings this weekend, though they still had their chances. After a lackluster performance in an 8-0 loss in Friday’s season opener, the Utes jumped out to a 2-0 first-inning lead Saturday afternoon, before senior starter Lucas Trinnaman suffered through one of his shortest collegiate performance, giving up five runs (two earned) in the bottom half before being pulled.

That was nearly all the Broncos got, and the Utes knotted the game at 5-5 thanks to a Brossman homer and RBIs from Cody Guymon and Mike Mitchell in the top of the third, but Santa Clara’s Gabe Alcantar sent what proved to be the winning run over the plate with a single in the bottom of the third.

Sunday’s contest was just as close, but after starter Eric King fell behind by a pair of runs in the first, the Utes couldn’t quite climb back into contention despite nearly five innings of scoreless work by the Utah bullpen.

The team will be back on the road this weekend, traveling south to take on New Mexico State.