Second-seeded BYU's baseball team plays the Air Force Academy on Tuesday at 3 p.m., PDT, in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at Las Vegas.
BYU, 30-26 overall and 14-8 in the MWC, earned the No. 2 seed by finishing in a second-place tie with San Diego State and won the tiebreaker (won two of three games in head-to-head). Air Force, 10-36 and 1-21, lost all three of its games against BYU this season, having only beaten New Mexico in the Preseason Tournament.
However, the Cougars are wary of AFA, a team that eliminated them in a 5-3 upset in 2004, the last time the tourney was held in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, BYU is grateful to face the Falcons again.
"We don't want to deplete our staff if we can somehow get by Air Force," said BYU Coach Vance Law of his pitchers. "By facing Air Force in the first round, it frees up our pitching staff a bit more."
Law will start senior James Platt (0-1, 8.00), from Cedar City, who has 17 appearances this season. He pitched one inning against the Falcons in a 17-4 victory last month.
BYU has won 14 of its last 18 games, including a three-game sweep over the Falcons last month at Colorado Springs.
"We are now playing our best baseball of the year. We knew we were talented, but young and inexperienced," said Law.
"The turning point was when we got Ben Saylor off the mark, then Jeff Hiestand and Casey Nelson got on board and helped build the confidence of our young team. It has been a wonderful thing to witness how bad we were at the start to get to where we are now."
Saylor now is one of the nation's leaders with 19 homers and leads the team with a .353 batting average, 61 RBI and a .702 slugging percentage. Hiestand is second on the team with 12 homers. Nelson, who has caught in 48 of BYU's 56 games, is one of five Cougars batting over .300.
BYU started the season at 0-8, then improved slightly to a 3-11 record. The Cougars didn't hit the .500 mark until winning the final game at Air Force last month. BYU crossed the Mendoza Line (.200) in early March and is now batting .293, leading the league in MWC games only at .338. BYU holds the series advantage this season over all MWC opponents except TCU.
The Cougars were picked to finish fourth in the MWC Preseason Poll and start as many as five freshmen on a given day, sometimes finishing games with six freshmen on the field. The ages on this year's team range from 25-year-old Anthony Bingham, who is one of a dozen seniors on this year's team, to 18-year-old Jordan Muir, who has posted a 6-0 record on the mound.
A victory over AFA puts BYU in a Wednesday game at 12:30 p.m. PDT, against the winner of Utah and San Diego State. If the Falcons prevail Tuesday, then BYU faces the loser of the Ute-Aztec game on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
All of BYU's games will be broadcast live locally over KOVO Radio (960 AM) and live over the Internet on links via www.byucougars.com.
For more information on BYU's baseball team for this week, click on the PDF link at the top of this page.
Corrected Schedule for this week
Game 1-- No. 6 Utah vs. No. 3 San Diego St., 11 a.m., PDT
Game 2-- No. 2 BYU vs. No. 7 Air Force, 3 p.m., PDT
Game 3-- No. 4 UNLV vs. No. 5 New Mexico, 7 p.m., PDT
Game 4--Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 9 a.m., PDT
Game 5--Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 12:30 p.m., PDT
Game 6--Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, , 4 p.m., PDT
Game 7--No. 1 TCU vs. Winner Game 3, 7:30 p.m., PDT
Game 8--Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 7, 12:30 p.m., PDT
Game 9--Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 7, 4 p.m., PDT
Game 10--Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 8, 7:30 p.m., PDT
Game 11--Loser Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 7 p.m., PDT
Game 12--Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 11, 3 p.m., PDT
Game 13--If necessary, 7 p.m., PDT