Baseball: Utes go down south to face ugly, cold nemesis

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

On paper, there is no reason the U baseball team should have any problem against BYU today.

The Utes have convincingly out-hit and out-pitched their neighbors to the south to this point and have fielded just as efficiently. However, statistics and records tend to take a back seat to emotion when the bitter rivalry is taken into account.

Even though Tuesday’s game between BYU and Utah will not count as a conference game, it will matter to the players involved. It will pit sibling against sibling (Utah’s Tyler Relf vs. BYU’s Brandon Relf). It will be played in front of a raucous BYU crowd at Larry H. Miller Field in Provo. This game will be for more than just a mark in the win column — it will be for pride and bragging rights.

“You can throw all of those stats and things like that out the door in a game like this,” Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg said. “Knowing these two teams and these two schools, it’s going to be a highly spirited and highly competitive game.”

Led by second baseman Corey Shimada, the Utes boast an offense that leads the MWC in batting average (.328), slugging percentage (.481) and on-base percentage (.404). Batting first, Shimada is often the catalyst to that offense as he bats .390 and has an on-base percentage of .508.

But Shimada and the Utes have struggled to maintain consistency at the plate this season. At times, Utah will be absolutely unstoppable, going off for 18 or 19 runs in a contest. Then there are games where the Utes struggle to get on the board. Case in point: Utah got shutout against UVSC 8-0 on Wednesday, then turned around and beat the Wolverines 17-16 on Saturday.

Kinneberg said the inconsistency has more to do with whom the Utes are facing on the mound rather than how the team is swinging the bats.

“It has everything to do with the conditions and who we are facing,” Kinneberg said. “Like that game last week, (UVSC pitcher) Marcus Moore — who shut the Utes out — could pitch for any team in the country. That’s just how good he is. Then, at the end of the week, it was a tough day for pitchers. I was predicting an 18-16 game, and it turned out being 17-16.”

The Utes will face one of the Cougars’ better pitchers on the mound as Jared Miller is slated to start. Miller’s earned-run average teeters at a mediocre 5.06, but he boasts a 3-1 record on the season. Expect bullpen help to come early for the sophomore, though, as he averages less than four innings per start.

Penciled in to start for the Utes is sophomore Andrew Wilding. Like Miller, Wilding will be relieved early, and the Utes will likely go with a platoon of pitchers on the mound against the Cougars. Kinneberg reasons that by putting five or six players on the mound Tuesday, everybody will be well rested for the weekend games.

“We may pitch a different pitcher every inning,” Kinneberg said. “It’s going to be a very bullpen-oriented game.”

Regardless of who is on the mound for the Utes, the pitcher will face a potent but inconsistent bunch in the Cougars. BYU leads the conference in home runs (28) but hits a mediocre .296 at the plate.

After playing the Cougars at 2 p.m. today, the Utes will resume conference action Friday at San Diego State.

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