Illini Desert Classic in Arizona

Washington, Illinois and Kentucky are BYU's baseball opponents this week as it starts play on Thursday in the Illini Desert Classic at Tucson, Ariz.

The Cougars, 7-6, meet Washington on Thursday afternoon in the season debut for the Huskies at Tucson Electric Park, the AAA field. On Friday, BYU plays host Illinois, 0-2, at Diamondback Field 3. And on Saturday, the Cougars meet Kentucky, 2-5, again at Diamondback Field 3. The round robin tournament will be played at the Kino Sports Complex, the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox.

Starting on the mound for BYU against Washington is Nate Fernley (5-0, 1.71) who hopes to keep his unblemished record intact. Washington won the last two games against BYU in 1999.

Next on the hill for BYU will be Ryan Adams (2-1, 2.84) to go against Illinois. Lefty Jeff Stone (0-1, 4.91) is scheduled to start against Kentucky.

"Illinois Coach Itch Jones put this tournament together in Arizona and he's always had a good program," said BYU Coach Vance Law. "I am encouraged that we are playing well against good competition, but the time for moral victories has passed. We need to win some of these close games.

"I'm pleased with our pitching, but I thought we would be hitting better than we are showing. We have to be able to handle the good pitchers we've been facing, because that's the kind of guys we'll see in regionals."

There is a chance Lars Birkeland might play in the three-game series in Arizona at catcher after he missed last week due to a broken toe.

The Cougars returned last week from another road trip to California where they upset nationally-ranked Cal State Fullerton in the middle of a three game series, 8-2. Leading that charge was Fernley, who remained unbeaten after being named the national and conference pitcher of the week. BYU is licking its wounds, however, as this week's national pitcher of the week, Kirk Saarloos was one hit shy of throwing a perfect game against the Cougars to close the series with a 5-0 victory.

BYU opened its season last month at Tucson when it split with the University of Arizona in two games.

None of the BYU games will be on internet webcasts this week. The Cougars begin the Mountain West Conference play next week when they travel to New Mexico for a three-game series which starts March 1.