Coming into the weekend series, the Utah and BYU baseball teams were dead even, both struggling with 2-4 Mountain West Conference records.
Three games and three wins later, the Cougars are smiling, having put some space between the two rivals in the Mountain West standings and leaving the Utes in a big hole. The Cougars swept a doubleheader at Franklin Covey Field Saturday, winning 6-4 and 10-5 after winning the first game the day before.
"Sweeping anybody is great," said BYU coach Vance Law, whose club improved to 12-14 overall. "I'm really happy we played as well as we did. I'm pleased with our defense and we got some good pitching performances all weekend."
The Cougars jumped off to early leads in each of the three victories and held off every rally by the Utes (11-15), who only had five fewer hits in the series, but left too many men on base.
"Oh man, we left a lot of guys on base," said Ute coach Tim Esmay. "BYU, they scrapped and clawed. They knew how to finish it off."
In Saturday's first game, the Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Utes came back to tie it with three runs in the bottom of the sixth off Michel Bergeron, who allowed just two hits through the first five innings.
With one out in the seventh, Esmay replaced starter Clay Westmoreland with Brady Martinez, who has been the Utes' stopper this year with two wins, three saves and a 2.81 ERA. However, the Cougars sent six more batters to the plate and scored three times with Jake Stubblefield's double knocking in two runs.
"Brady Martinez has been incredible this year — nobody's hit him," said Esmay. "All of a sudden BYU has great at bats and they hit him. That's the type of stuff we're not getting."
Utah came back to score in the eighth on a triple by Eric Chevalier and a double by Brett Sundberg, but Jason Garcia relieved for BYU and got two outs to stop the Ute rally.
The second game was over in a hurry as the Cougars raced out to an 8-0 lead in five innings as Ryan Chambers went 3-for-3 and scored three runs as he hit a triple in the first, a single in the third and a double in the fifth.
The Utes cut the lead in half by the eighth inning, but pinch-hitter Clayton Carson hit a two-run home run in the ninth to put the game out of reach. Kenneth Gravley got the win as the Cougars used four pitchers in the rout.
Law was happy the way his team got off to quick starts in all three games and didn't let the Utes come back.
"We've stressed that, to keep our focus," said Law. "We want to add on every inning."
While the Cougars are back in the MWC race at 5-4, two games behind New Mexico, the Utes are entrenched in fifth place at 2-7. Still Esmay isn't panicking yet.
"I'd rather lose three straight in the first half of the season than in the second half," he said. "What is it they say, 'you've got to get well in a hurry.' That's where we're at. But we still have time to find ourselves."
The first game of the series took two days to complete with the Cougars taking a 9-5 victory in a game that was postponed because of snow Thursday and finished Friday night.
The Cougars head to California next week for a three-game set against San Diego State before returning home to face Air Force and New Mexico. The Utes go on the road to play last-place Air Force and then meet UNLV and San Diego State at home.
The Utes and Cougars play again May 1-3 at Miller Park in Provo.