The bleeding continues

By and

This is not where the U baseball team envisioned itself when the season began 25 days ago. Through 13 games, the Utes could have reasonably expected to be at least around the .500 mark.

Instead, they have been slip-sliding through the first month of the season, registering just two wins in four weeks. Those struggles continued over the weekend in a three-game sweep at the hands of the UC-Irvine Anteaters.

“I think we’re all feeling a little disappointed at where our record is at this point,” U head coach Bill Kinneberg said.

Going into their first and only week off this season, the Utes have lost seven straight. Curiously, the losing streak came right on the heels of the team’s most impressive effort of the season, an 18-1 drubbing of New Mexico State on Feb. 11. But instead of marking a turning point, that game now seems like more of an anomaly.

This weekend’s losses, however, came at the hands of a “top-25 caliber” team, according to all-conference third baseman Jay Brossman. In stark contrast to the Utes’ early season performance, the Anteaters haven’t lost since Feb. 4. After concluding their three-game sweep of Utah, they upped their winning streak to seven games. In fact, since their last defeat, their only semi-blemish was a 15-15 stalemate against Loyola-Marymount earlier this month.

“Irvine was a very good club,” Kinneberg said. “They’ll be in a regional and they have a shot to make some noise in the NCAAs this year.”

The Utes weren’t exactly blown out by the potent Anteaters; in fact, they had their chances in all three games. But that’s been the team’s M.O. throughout 2007’s earlygoing — close, but no cigar.

Sunday’s series finale was the Utes’ best offensive output since their 18-run showing in New Mexico, but even their seven runs weren’t enough to slow down UC-Irvine. Junior catcher Aaron Lowenstein tripled in three runs to highlight a five-run seventh for the Anteaters, who withstood a late Utah rally with three more runs in the eighth.

“I saw signs this weekend of our offense coming to life, of guys taking better swings and better approaches,” Kinneberg said. “We saw the ball much better than we saw it the last three weeks.”

The loss was another wasted effort for senior southpaw Eric King, who allowed just two earned runs in 5.1 innings on the hill. Despite a 2.18 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, King has just one win to show for it. Faltering in the middle innings — both on the mound and defensively — and a lack of consistent run support have prevented King and the Utes from a few victories that, with a few clutch hits or defensive plays here and there, easily could have been theirs.

“The thing that we have to overcome, and we still have to work these things out, is being able to execute and come through in a clutch situation — defensively, pitching and hitting,” Kinneberg said. “Once we get that going, we’re gonna be just fine.”

During the first two games of the series in Irvine, the Utes once again couldn’t put enough runners across the plate to make any difference.

In Friday’s opener, Utah held an early 2-0 advantage before squandering it — once again, in the middle innings. The Anteaters scored all their runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth and took game one, 7-3.

Saturday afternoon, Ute senior Lucas Trinnaman gave up three runs (though just one earned) in six innings, putting the U in a good enough position to pull out a win. While Corey Shimada pulled his weight with three RBI, that was it for the Utes — and away walked another victory as UC-Irvine claimed it, 5-3.

“They’re a real quality team,” Brossman said. “We were in all three games. We actually had the lead in two games.”

Brossman, a three-time all-conference selection, said that the last two weekends have been especially frustrating because they have “pretty much come down to” the Utes’ inability to get a few clutch hits, or a penchant for making a crucial error. The Utes hope to take steps toward getting those problems taken care of this week. They will be back on the field next weekend in Cedar City to take on Southern Utah.