Two weeks notice

A lackluster three-week stretch put the U baseball team in a big hole as mid-March reared its head. But as the weather has finally gotten warmer in Salt Lake City, so have the Utes — appropriately, just as they are about to hit their first extended homestand of the season.

In the first conference series of the season, the Utes took two of three from the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque over the weekend and have now won five of six overall, including a home win over rival BYU earlier in the week. All of a sudden, the offense that struggled to move runners over the first month of the season now looks like the explosive bunch it was expected to be.

“Guys are starting to get settled in their roles, and they really swung the bat well this weekend,” U head coach Bill Kinneberg said. “We’re starting to get those clutch hits that maybe we weren’t getting a few weeks ago.”

A prime example that Kinneberg pointed to was the fact that, during his team’s Sunday afternoon victory over the Lobos, the Utes scored all 11 of their runs with two outs.

Three-time all-conference selection Jay Brossman drove in a pair of runs — including his third round-tripper of the week — as did shortstop Mike Mitchell and catcher Cody Guymon. The Utes held an 11-5 lead before New Mexico’s four-run seventh cut the deficit to just two, but U relievers John James and Brett Bruneel held off the Lobo sluggers in the final two innings to preserve the victory and the series.

Sunday was the second straight afternoon that the Ute offense reached double-digits, a landmark that eluded the team for most of the season’s earlygoing. On Saturday evening, the Utes once again got contributions from practically everyone in the lineup as they pounded out 19 hits and a trio of hitters drove in two runs apiece. Brossman and Corey Shimada both homered, giving more than enough run support for ace Eric King to pick up his third victory of the season in a 12-8 final.

That victory made up for the Utes’ only slip-up of the week, which came Friday afternoon in the series opener. The Lobo hurlers shut down the U offense en route to a 9-1 victory in game one, but the Utes’ next two days made up for the early loss.

Having taken two of three from UNM, the Utes have now won two series in a row. They accomplished the same feat — in much the same way — last week, as they won two of three against the Portland Pilots on the road.

The successful week began in exciting fashion Tuesday as the Utes hosted the Cougars for their first head-to-head meeting of the season. Despite an early BYU lead, the Utes saved their theatrics for the last few moments of the game. Tied at four in the bottom of the eighth, the Utes put four runners across the plate to take an 8-4 win. Shimada singled in a pair of runs and Brossman tripled in another as the U sent the Y packing.

The recurring theme over the past 10 days has been clear: clutch hitting. It’s not just the runs — which have been plentiful — but it’s been when the Utes have picked up those runs that has been of utmost importance in the recent stretch. It’s certainly a far cry from the beginning of the year, when the Utes consistently left runners on base and suffered a handful of close losses.

One major reason for that, Kinneberg said, is that his lineup — in flux for much of the first month, as is often the case — is finally starting to round into shape. Players are becoming entrenched at their defensive spots. One of those players is Brossman, who has moved back to first base — where he played last season — giving Erich Kemp the opportunity to move back to the hot corner.

“We’ve still got a ways to go and we’ve still got things to work on, but things are starting to look good and starting to come together,” Kinneberg said.

Brossman drove in five runs and hit .500 over the four-game stretch, earning MWC Player of the Week honors, the first Ute to be honored this year.

The Utes will host UVSC today at Ute Field and will face the Wolverines once more on April 5. In between, Utah will play host to UNLV in a three-game set at Franklin Covey Field this weekend.

Tyler Cobb

Utah senior Jay Brossman, MWC Player of the Week, throws the ball in the Utes’ game against Gonzaga on the March 13 at Ute Field. Utah will host UVSC today at 2 p.m. at Ute Field.