Rucker solid as BYU clinches spot in WCC tournament
PROVO, Utah — Pitcher Michael Rucker’s 11th win secured a spot for BYU baseball in the West Coast Conference tournament with an 8-2 victory over Santa Clara Thursday night.
“He's a winner (Rucker) and I'm really proud of how he played today,” BYU head coach Mike Littlewood said. "Fortunately tonight, Mike settled in, found a groove and chewed up seven innings for us. Our hitters were able to grind it out and we got it done tonight."
The Cougars used solid pitching and held the hitting advantage 13-5 to improve to 35-15 and 16-9 in WCC play. The Broncos fell to 23-27 and 10-15 in the WCC.
Rucker threw seven innings, struck out five, allowed four hits and gave up no earned runs to become the third pitcher in the nation to start 11-0 this season.
Centerfielder Brennon Lund’s 3-for-4 game was the difference-maker as his RBI single in the fourth proved to be the go-ahead run. Right fielder Keaton Kringlen went 3-for-5 at the plate, including two doubles and two RBI.
"Kringlen is on fire right now,” Littlewood said. “He just plays the game the right way and just brings energy. We have to bring energy, every guy every single game. We're not done yet."
The Cougars gave up two unearned runs in the first after some sloppy field play. A throwing error on a pickoff attempt allowed SCU’s leadoff batter to advance from first to third. Another throwing error with one out in the frame allowed a batter to reach first and scored the first run. The second run came on a two-out single for the early 2-0 deficit.
The Broncos picked up where they left off in the top of the second, loading the bases with one out. Rucker got out of the jam with a strikeout and third baseman Daniel Schneemann’s throw on the run to first for the out.
BYU kept the SCU offense from scoring in the third as shortstop Hayden Nielsen ran down the runner who attempted to run home from third.
The Cougars started to make up ground in the bottom of half of the frame. Lund doubled down the left-field line for his second hit of the game. Nilesen singled to right center for the RBI that cut the score to 2-1.
After retiring the side in the fourth, BYU tacked on two runs to pull ahead. Schneemann scored on a wild pitch to tie the game before lightning delayed the game for 40 minutes.
The Cougars continued their upswing with three more runs in the fifth. Kringlen’s presence was felt as he delivered a two-run double down the left-field line. Larsen reached on an error that scored Kringlen for the 6-2 BYU lead.
The Cougars scored two more runs in the seventh and eighth innings to put the game out of reach. Nielsen drew a bases-loaded walk to make the game 7-2. Shaver’s RBI single scored Eric Urry for the final run, who led off the eighth with a triple.
“I’m just happy that I could be a part of 11 wins,” Rucker said. “It’s just good that I could go deep enough (in the game). The bullpen came in and Keaton (Cenatiempo) did a really good job of closing the door and being efficient.”
The second game of the series against Santa Clara begins at 6 p.m. MDT on Friday.
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