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IT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE AS FALCONS RUIN U. OPENERS

The setting seemed perfect Monday afternoon for the Utah baseball team, which hosted the Air Force Academy in a doubleheader at Ute Field.

The sun was shining, it was the first home game for the Utes, and two of their top players were back in the lineup after long absences due to injuries.Alas, the Falcons spoiled everything for the Utes with a pair of come-from-behind victories, 7-5 and 9-4.

The losses dropped Utah to 0-5 in Western Athletic Conference play and 6-17 on the season. The two teams were to complete a three-game series Tuesday afternoon.

"We didn't play good defense, and offensively we didn't execute very well," said Ute coach Steve Gillespie. "That's a bad combination if you're trying to win a ballgame."

It's been a tough year overall for the Utes, who lost longtime coach Rick Sofield to the Montreal Expos in January. Earlier this season the Utes lost a couple of their top players, Kevin Bracy with a broken thumb and Mark Sampson with a dislocated kneecap.

In mid-March, the Utes went to California to play six games, only to sit for most of a week watching torrential rains and floods. They returned home last week, but poor weather and field conditions cancelled three games and moved two more to Provo.

They finally opened the home season Monday and both games started with promise and ended with pain.

In the first game, the Utes watched the first batter of the game, Lance Massey, smash a home run for Air Force. But in the bottom of the inning, Bracy answered with a two-run homer for Utah.

The Utes added single runs in the third and fourth innings to go up 4-2, but Air Force rallied to tie the game with runs in the fifth and sixth innings and force extra innings.

Utah had a chance to win it in the eighth when Bracy singled and advanced to third base with two outs. However, pinch-hitter Matt Hagan grounded to second to end the rally.

Air Force, aided by an error and a passed ball, put three runs on the board in the ninth and Utah could only muster one in the bottom of the inning.

Mike Sagas pitched seven strong innings for Utah, allowing just two earned runs, but it all went for naught.

"If we play better defense, we don't go into extra innings," said Gillespie, lamenting three unearned runs.

In the second game, Utah scored four runs in the bottom of the second, thanks to six singles with Nate Truax knocking in two runs with his single.

However, Air Force scored two runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, and Utah couldn't find any more offense against AFA starter Alan Barker or reliever Keith Umlauf. The Utes used six pitchers in the second game in an effort to stop the Falcons.

"They're a hard-nosed bunch of guys and you've got to come out and be ready to play," said Gillespie. "We just did not play well."

Gillespie knew he had to have patience with a lineup that includes three freshmen along with several seniors.

"Our problem is we haven't gotten better from game one to game 23. We haven't learned about the game," he said.