PROVO, Utah – No. 30 BYU baseball cruised to an 11-2 win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs behind productive bats and the arm of junior righthander Michael Rucker on Thursday night at Miller Park.
Rucker, a former Zag, gave up one earned run in the first but settled down to deliver six scoreless frames after that start. He fanned six and scattered six hits over his seven innings to improve to a nation-best 9-0 mark on the season. He was tied for No. 1 in wins in the NCAA entering the game.
"[Rucker] is just a calm guy," coach Mike Littlewood said. "He’s calm out there. He’s calm when we’re talking in my office. He’s calm in the clubhouse. He’s calm on the bus. Sometimes you have to check him for a heartbeat. He just doesn’t show his emotions. That’s what makes him really good. And at this level when you can do that, it’s pretty special.
"He’s got a great future. We sure wish we’d have him back next year, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think he’s going to have a really good chance of playing pro ball next year."
With the win, BYU (29-9, 11-5) moves within one-half game of West Coast Conference leader Gonzaga (24-14, 12-7) in the opener of a three-game series with the Bulldogs.
Freshman Keaton Kringlen went 3-for-4 with three RBI and juniors Tanner Chauncey and Bronson Larsen each homered for the Cougars. Seniors Hayden Nielsen and Eric Urry, along with junior Brennon Lund each collected two hits and two runs.
Gonzaga took a 1-0 lead in the top half of the first. After stringing together back-to-back infield hits to start the game, Zags’ outfielder Jeff Bohling roped a two-out double with runners at the corners to plate outfielder Sam Brown for the early edge.
BYU answered quickly when Lund doubled to lead off the bottom of the first on a soft liner down the right-field line. After Nielsen took a pitch off the back, Lund stole third and sophomore Colton Shaver walked to load the bases with one out. Urry hit a sharp single through the left side to score Lund and Nielsen to go ahead 2-1. A hard-hit grounder from Kringlen went off the Gonzaga shortstop Dustin Breshear's face for an infield hit and Shaver came in to score, giving BYU a 3-1 lead.
The bats continued to add insurance, coming up with at least one run in each of the final five innings BYU came to the plate.
Sophomore Brennon Anderson picked up a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth. Lund walked and Nielsen singled to left, scoring Anderson to add to make it 4-1.
The Cougars extended the lead to 5-1 in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Kringlen after Urry doubled to lead off the inning and took third on an error by the right fielder.
BYU escaped a jam in the top of the sixth with two on and one out by Nielsen snagging a ground ball up the middle, stepping on second base and throwing to first for an inning-ending double play.
Chauncey made it 6-1 when he took a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, his first of the season and second as a collegian.
The longball was working again the bottom of the seventh with Larsen going deep to center with Urry on base for a two-run blast to push the lead to 8-1 after seven innings.
Lund tripled to lead off the eighth and scored easily from third on Nielsen’s single to left for a 9-1 mark. Back-to-back singles from Chauncey and Shaver scored Nielsen and BYU led 10-1. The Cougars got one more on the sacrifice fly from Kringlen to score freshman outfielder Danny Gelalich who came in to run for Chauncey.
The Bulldogs picked up a run in the top of the ninth but BYU went on to win it 11-2.
BYU and Gonzaga play game two of the series Friday at 6 p.m. MT at Miller Park. The game will be televised live on BYUtv and available on ESPN 960 AM and BYU Radio - Sirius XM 143.