Just one victory could clinch the Mountain West Conference baseball regular season title for BYU as it hosts UNLV in a three-game series starting Thursday evening.
BYU, 32-18 overall and 19-7 in the league, hosts the Rebels, 21-29 and 12-15. Freshman Jeff Stearman (2-4, 5.55) is scheduled to pitch the first game on Thursday at 6 p.m. Stearman is taking the place of Nate Fernley as the lead pitcher this week for a couple of reasons.
Fernley pitched five innings last Monday to guide BYU to a 10-4 victory in its snow-delayed series sweep at the Air Force Academy. Stearman was effective in his last outing, a 17-5 victory vs. San Diego State, and struck out 11 Rebels last March in a 2-1 loss at Las Vegas.
Getting the victory in that game for UNLV was all-conference lefty Ryan Olson, who stands 6-5 and has a 3-4 record with a 5.98 ERA.
Fernley, who is tied for the lead in the nation with 13 victories, will pitch Friday night. The time for that game has been changed to 7 p.m., in order to better accommodate a fireworks promotional.
Jeff Stone (4-4, 6.34) is scheduled to start in Saturday's game at 1 p.m. Stone is seeking his 26th career victory.
Aiding the Cougar pitchers are several batters, led by Matt Carson, who was named last week to the USA National Team Trials. Carson is ninth in the nation in RBI with an average of 1.38 and is 17th nationally with his 17 homers averaging 0.35 a game. Teammate Doug Jackson's seven triples ranks him seventh in the latest NCAA statistics.
Also on the line is Shane Belliston's current 23-game hitting streak for BYU.
This is BYU's final home stand of the season. The Cougars have a two-and one-half-game lead in the MWC over San Diego State, who hosts next week's league tournament.
BYU has already drawn 11,658 fans for an average of 1,166 in 10 dates at Larry H. Miller Field. Promotional efforts are underway to sellout the 2,300-seat stadium as BYU seeks to attract one of 16 NCAA Regional hosting sites for the 64-team bracket which will be announced on Monday.
The first 500 fans attending Saturday afternoon's contest will receive free beach balls. All of the games will be broadcast live locally over KSRR Radio (1400 AM), but none of the games will be carried over the Internet.