Unexpected tourney run falls short

By By Christopher Kamrani

By Christopher Kamrani

After losing two of three games to rival Brigham Young University in the season’s final regular season series, the U baseball team came out and responded, and then some, in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

The Utes rattled off a 9-3 victory over the Cougars in the first round, defeated arguably the best pitcher in the MWC in San Diego State fireballer Stephen Strasburg, then turned out to be one of the biggest surprises in Fort Worth, Texas.

It happened to be a five-game tournament for the Utes, who went 3-2 and ultimately lost both games to the best two teams in the conference, New Mexico and No. 20 TCU.

However, each game told a different story for the Utes.

Starting off against BYU, it was freshman center-fielder Tyler Relf who burned his brother’s Cougars going 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and junior hurler Brian Budrow who pitched a complete game with an astounding 10 strikeouts to go along with two earned runs on five hits.

The second game against New Mexico wasn’t all peaches for the Utes, who saw their momentum take a hit with an 8-2 loss.

“The things we did (against BYU) to make us successful, we didn’t do today,” U head coach Bill Kinneberg said after that game.

Little did Kinneberg know that his Utes would show up to play their most impressive game of the season the next day.

In what many expected to be a David vs. Goliath pitching match, sophomore John James out-dueled Strasburg in what ended up being a 1-0 victory for the Utes. With the victory James moved to a record of 4-7, while Strasburg lost his third decision of the year and first to a MWC team. Kinneberg was ecstatic with the way his team responded and with James’ overall performance.

“That was a tremendous effort,” Kinneberg said. “(James) did a heck of a job-our defense saved him a couple of times as well. If you beat Stephen Strasburg, you have done something. He may be the best pitcher in college baseball this year.”

James pitched a complete game shutout scattering four walks and four hits to go along with a game-high nine strikeouts.

“I definitely wanted to beat (Strasburg),” James said. “It’s kind of an honor to go against him, but I couldn’t really worry about it. I just did what I could do.”

After Utah’s offense scored three runs in two games, the fourth game of the tournament turned out to be a different story for the Utes.

The Utes took on UNLV and saw their offense break out with a 7-4 victory over the Rebels. The Utes had four hitters with multi-hit games-the most prominent being left fielder Dustin Hennis, who belted a two-run homer and finished with three RBIs on the day.

With the victory, the Utes cemented themselves as the most successful U baseball team in MWC tournament history with three wins.

The Utes saw their season end once they ran into No. 20 TCU. The Utes were active with the bats early and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Horned Frogs. Senior Kerr Foster lasted three innings as the Utes were forced to dip into their bullpen early. The tournament host and eventual tournament champions responded with four unanswered runs to take the game from the Utes, 6-3.

The Utes’ unexpected run through the MWC tourney left them with a third-place finish and a reason to keep their heads held high going into the off-season.

“We battled hard,” Kinneberg said after the season-ending loss. “That’s all I can ask of our kids, and they did just that. We got beat by a better club, but our kids battled hard and played their tails off, so I am proud of them.”[email protected]

Lennie Mahler

Jesse Shriner eyes the ball as BYU’s Jonathan Cluff slides into home. The Utes defeated BYU in their first game of the Mountain West tournament. The Utes went on to finish at the tournament 3-2 and earned a third place finish.