Utes face UVU, then No. 18 New Mexico

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Utes vs. UVU

For the second time in one week, the Utah baseball team will travel south to Orem to take on Utah Valley University. The last time these two teams met on the diamond, the Utes used a late-game rally to propel themselves to victory over the Wolverines, 9-6.

UVU’s pitching was the main reason the Utes were able to rally. In the seventh inning, down 6-3, Utah players were walked five times. The Utes capitalized with the runners on base hitting two extra base hits. When the damage was done, the Utes had scored six runs on two hits.

At 9-21, the Wolverines have not been playing well this season. Most of the Utes feel that this is a game they should win most of the time. UVU is coming off of a four-game series against Air Force, the worst team in the Mountain West Conference at 10-19, and were able to pick up two wins.

It’s big for the Wolverines to pick up wins against big name schools. They haven’t been thrown into a conference since they’ve become a Division-I school. UVU will bring its A game against teams like Utah and BYU because it has something to prove.

“They don’t change much; they’ll always be very competitive,” said Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg. “They’re not in a conference yet so whenever they play us or BYU, that’s a big opportunity for them.”

The tale of two seasons

After 27 games, the Utes are just past the halfway point of the 2009 season. Utah has the exact same 13-14 record as it did at this point last season. From there the Utes went on to lose six straight. With a No. 18 New Mexico coming into town this weekend, wins might be hard to come by again.

The most significant change in Utah’s lineup this season from last is in its hitting, especially with Michael Beltran. Beltran earned his spot on the team as a freshman by batting an average of .372 on the season last year, which ranked fourth in the conference. At the halfway point this season, he has started every game for the Utes and is batting a dismal .261. As a team, the Utes have a .283 average where last year they finished with a .323 batting average. It’s still early, but they have some work to do.

Utah saw its best pitcher, Stephen Fife, leave early to play professionally last season. This left the team with a void to fill, and it wasn’t hard to find its Friday night guy. Brian Budrow has been very solid in the role as the Utes’ ace. He is No. 11 in the MWC in earned run average at 3.91 and has a record of 4-1 in seven starts this season.

All four of Utah’s starting pitching rotation rank in the top 25 in the league in ERA. If the bullpen begins to play better this season, the Utes could see themselves winning some big games.

Strong showing for MWC

Three teams are nationally ranked in the MWC this season. New Mexico is ranked No. 18 with a 25-8 record, San Diego State is ranked No. 21 at 22-11 and No. 22 TCU has a 19-9 record. TCU and SDSU are tied for first in the conference with a 6-3 record and New Mexico is tied with BYU in third, as the Cougars have also received Top 25 votes.

All three of the nationally ranked teams are winning in different ways. New Mexico is dominant on the offensive side of the ball with a .393 batting average in 33 games this season. The Lobos are led by Ryan Honeycutt with a .505 batting average. They have five players in the top 7 in batting this season.

SDSU is getting it done with its pitching, which is averaging 3.64 earned runs per game as a team. Stephen Strasburg is the Aztecs’ ace and perhaps the best pitcher in the country with a 1.49 ERA and a 6-0 record in seven starts.

The Horned Frogs rank second in the conference in hitting (.319 BA) and pitching (4.02 ERA) this season.

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Tyler Cobb

With a 13-14 record the Utes hope to finish off the season strong. The team plays UVU this week in Orem.