BYU baseball: Pitching is key for BYU at MWC tourney
By Jeff Call
PROVO — BYU coach Vance Law admits that the Cougars have experienced a mediocre season to this point.
With a 25-29 record overall, BYU's baseball team is the No. 4 seed heading into the Mountain West Conference Tournament, which opens this week. The Cougars, who finished 12-12 in league play, face No. 5 seed UNLV Tuesday (4 p.m.) at Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
"Gosh, it's been kind of average," Law said when asked about the 2010 campaign. "We've won some games against good teams, and then we've faltered a little bit in games that I feel we should have won. We're starting to play better right now. I think some of our young pitchers are getting the hang of it more. We're young on the mound. They've gained some experience and they've been able to develop to the point to where they can keep us in ball games ... It's kind of been a mixed bag."
Of course, for every MWC team, it's the start of another season. The winner of the conference tournament earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars remember that the Utes entered the tournament with a losing record and ended winning the conference title, seizing an NCAA berth and advancing to the regionals.
"That's been brought up (with the team)," Law said. "The guys know. Most of them were down there to witness it down there. They beat us 2-1. It still sticks with you a little bit. You hope to duplicate that type of performance, what they did. You know everything is possible."
For the Cougars to make a similar Cinderella trip to the NCAAs, Law knows the key is pitching.
"All of our pitchers are going to have to pitch well for us to make a run," he said. "Our offense is going to have to give them run support. To me, the key is the pitching staff keeping us close in ball games to give our offense that chance."
On the mound, BYU is led by senior Kevin Sloan, who owns a team-leading 9-1 record and 2.84 ERA, though he has not started a game this season.
"He's in a position where we bring him in in close ball games, and he's continued to keep us close so our offense has a chance to score some runs," Law said. "That's why he's been able to get so many of those wins out of the bullpen, because he's come in and do his job and given us a chance to catch up or take the lead."
Sloan suffered his only loss in BYU's regular-season finale at Air Force, surrendering four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. Freshman Chris Capper (4-1, 4.68 ERA) has been another pleasant surprise for Law's club.
While BYU's offense has been fairly consistent, its defense has been suspect at times, committing an inordinate amount of errors — 108.
"The down side is, we haven't played defense very well," Law said. "That's an area we're trying to improve on."
This week, the Cougars, who have won five of their last seven games, can turn their season around by pulling some upsets in San Diego. "We're carrying some pretty good momentum. We just need to keep playing well," Law said. "We definitely need to win the tournament in order to get in (the NCAAs)."
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