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U. baseball team looking for pitchers

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With a little better pitching, the Utah baseball team could have had a winning record and contended for the Mountain West Conference title this year.

Of course, that's an annual problem for the Utes and many college baseball teams. Solid pitching is hard to come by and something that Ute coach Tim Esmay searches for every year.

The bad news for the Utes is that they are losing three of their top pitchers from this year, senior Ben Buck and juniors Doug Mackay and Clay Westmoreland, who will both sign professional baseball contracts this week.

Also, the Utes could lose two of their top recruits, both pitchers, who were selected in the recent major league draft. If they decide to forgo the money, then the Utes could have a strong pitching staff next season, according to Esmay.

The Utes' ace, Jason Price, who set a single-season record for strikeouts (102), will be back for his junior season. Players aren't allowed to be drafted until after their junior years of college besides being drafted out of high school.

Mackay, a former Bingham High standout who was the Utes' No. 2 starter this year, was taken in the 22nd round by the San Francisco Giants, while Westmoreland, who went from starter to closer this year, was selected by the Florida Marlins in the 33rd round.

Two of Utah's high school signees were also taken in the draft — Steven Hirschfield from Moab High School and Troy Grundy of Carbon High.

The 6-foot-5 Hirschfield was drafted by Montreal in the 29th round, while Grundy went to Los Angeles in the 42nd round. They have until the end of the summer to decide if they want to go pro or to college.

The Utes are also losing their top returning hitter in Matt Ciaramella, a three-year starter from Skyline High, who was drafted last week by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round. Ciaramella batted .366 with a record 28 doubles and 13 homers for the Utes.

Among the Ute regulars who are graduating are infielders Jared Pena, Michael Westfall and Cort Wilson, and outfielder Eric Chevalier.

Esmay is excited to have freshmen Jay Brossman, John Welsh and Jake Waldram back along with sophomore shortstop Ryan Khoury and outfielders Tyson Olson and TJ Floyd, and catcher Trevor Eastman. Shad McCord, who started six games this year, could move into the rotation in 2005.

After defeating every team in the league during the regular season, including two of three against league champion San Diego State in San Diego, the Utes played well in the postseason MWC tournament, where they defeated BYU 10-4. However, after losing to San Diego State, they were eliminated by New Mexico, which scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 9-8.

"We're excited about our prospects for next year," said Esmay. "The big key is getting Hirschfield and Grundy. It will be hard to replace Ciaramella, but I feel really good about our recruiting class and the kids we have coming back."

Esmay is pleased with his incoming class of recruits, which includes three junior college players and five high schoolers.

The Utes signed pitchers Josh Cooper and Chad Cullers from Lamar Community College along with catcher Adam Frank. The other high school players are Orem's Ryder Olsen and two Arizona players, Brad DeVore and Tyler Falco.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com