Home At Last

Finishing a 26-game opening schedule in California, BYU starts its home stand with a three-game series against UNLV beginning Thursday.

The series begins Mountain West Conference play for both teams. Thursday and Friday's match-ups begin at 6:30 p.m. at Larry H. Miller Field with the final game at noon on Saturday.

After winning six of their last seven games, the Cougars enter the week with a 10-16 record. Probable pitching starters for BYU are Patrick Wells (3-2, 4.53) on Thursday, Paul Jacinto (0-5, 6.35) on Friday and Justin Su'a (2-1, 3.44) on Saturday.

"It's nice to be home after a bit of a rough start," said BYU Coach Vance Law. "Our pitching has been very good all year and our hitters are catching on. We are hoping all facets can come together."

BYU enters conference play after finishing second at the Pepsi-Johnny Quik Classic hosted by Fresno State in Fresno, Calif. BYU went 5-1 in the tournament, beating Dallas Baptist, Chicago State, Fresno State, Monmouth and Portland.

Posting the best record in the tournament, the Cougars had homefield advantage in the championship game against Fresno State. BYU fell 10-9 to the Bulldogs after a ninth inning triple scored two and gave Fresno its first lead in the game. Sophomore right fielder Ben Saylor and junior catcher Casey Cloward were named to the all-tournament team.

The second place finish is the third in seven appearances for the Cougars. The only time BYU has won the tournament is in 1983.

Senior second baseman Wade Vest leads the team with a nine-game hitting streak, the second longest streak this year. Saylor has a six-game streak and junior center fielder Ryan Chambers has a four-game streak. Chambers has also hit triples in the last four-consecutive games.

Sophomore Jeff Heistand leads the Cougars with a .311 batting average. He has three home runs and 15 RBI after a two home run, six RBI game against Chicago State last week.

BYU improved both offensively and defensively after the six-game tournament in Fresno. The Cougars raised their team batting average 15 points from .218 to .237 while the team ERA dropped 25 points from 5.52 to 5.27.

The Cougars are 49-47 against UNLV all-time. Last year, BYU also opened its home schedule against the Rebels, winning one of three in the series. Jacinto threw a one-hitter in the lone win. The Cougars were swept by UNLV in Las Vegas in 2003, finishing with a 1-5 record against the Rebels for the season. Three of the five losses to UNLV last year were decided by one run.

The Rebels (12-7) began this season with a majority of their games at home. They have a 12-3 home record and are 0-4 on the road. Last week, they won two of three against Central Michigan in Las Vegas.

Senior second baseman Ryan Ruiz leads the team with a .449 batting average. He has three home runs and 26 RBI. Six position starters have a batting average above .300, and the team comes into the series with a .318 average. Senior starting pitcher Jake Voss began the season 3-1 with a 3.52 ERA and 23 strikeouts in six starts. The team ERA sits at .570.

UNLV finished 47-17 in 2003 and 27-6 in the MWC, winning the conference tournament. The Rebels are led by first-year coach Buddy Gouldsmith.

BYU radio coverage starts Thursday with the play-by-play coming again from Brent Norton, BYU's veteran broadcaster entering his 14th season. On Saturday the play-by-play will be called by Jay Monsen. Games will be live on KOVO 960 AM with Saturday's game available live on the Internet. A link to the audio cast can be found at www.byucougars.com.

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