Hayden Nielsen’s five RBIs helped BYU knock off Hartford, 11-7, to give the Cougars a four-game sweep over the Hawks on Saturday afternoon.
“Hayden (Nielsen) was great for us all series,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “But that’s what we expect of him now. He’s in the three spot for a reason and it was great to see him perform like I know he can.”
BYU (6-10) picks up its first series win of the year in the four-game sweep of Hartford (3-7) in the season-opening series at Larry H. Miller Field.
Nielsen ended the day 3-for-4 at the plate with a double, triple and five RBIs for the second game in a row. Nielsen knocked in 13 runs in the four-game series and leads the team with 17. Sophomore right-hander Keaton Cenatiempo (1-1) came out of the bullpen to pitch four innings, recording a career-high five strikeouts, surrendering no hits to pick up the win for BYU.
“Keaton is one of those guys that can come back from short rest, thank goodness,” Littlewood said. “He’s really stepping up to be one of these guys that we rely on out of the pen. Keaton is so effective because he changes speeds on his fastball so well. You don’t see the same speed two times in a row and he was great for us today and the whole series, really.”
In the bottom of the fifth, sophomore first baseman Cole Wilstead doubled down the left field line to score Colton Shaver who walked, making the score 6-2 in favor of Hartford. Lund chopped a ball right in front of the plate that the Hartford catcher couldn’t handle, scoring a run, and Lund reached safely at first.
Whitney then shot a single through the gap on the right side of the infield to score Wilstead and make it a 6-4 game.
Nielsen, the last guy Hartford wanted to see with the bases loaded, launched a bases-clearing triple in the right-center field gap to give BYU back the lead at 7-6.
With Paxton Larson at the plate for BYU and the bases loaded with two outs, junior outfielder Eric Urry took off from the third and beat the pitch, stealing home and giving BYU the 10-6 lead. A balk on the next pitch allowed Wilstead to trot home, giving BYU an 11-6 lead heading to the eighth.
In the bottom of the seventh, it was more of the same for Nielsen. Whitney walked to lead off the inning, and Nielsen stepped up to the plate and promptly drilled a double to the left field wall to score Whitney, giving Nielsen five RBIs for the game, 13 in the series and a career-high and team-high 17 for the season, and stretching the Cougar lead to 8-6.
The day began with BYU sophomore outfielder Brennon Lund doubling down the left field line to lead off the game, and junior walk-on Derrick Whitney moved Lund over to third with a groundout to second.
Nielsen continued to pile up RBIs against the Hawks with a sac fly to left to score Lund and give BYU the early 1-0 lead.
Hartford evened things up in its half of the fourth. BYU true freshman pitcher Maverik Buffo walked the leadoff batter, and Ryan Lukach, who had two home runs in the doubleheader Friday, doubled to the right-center field alley, scoring the runner from first knotting the game at one.
Hartford took advantage of BYU’s pitchers struggling in the fifth. The Hawks used three walks and a hit by pitch with only one hit in the frame to score three runs and extend the Hartford lead to 6-1.
Wilstead picked up his second RBI double of the afternoon down the left field line to score Nielsen and make it 9-6 in favor of BYU in the seventh.
Hartford added a run in the ninth, but BYU held on and won, 11-7, to complete the four-game sweep of the Hawks.
The Cougars are back in action Tuesday, March 11, against Utah Valley University at Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem, Utah, at 6:00 p.m. MDT.
Zach Brady is a student at BYU and current BYU swimming & diving SID. TWITTER: @Zachbrady7 EMAIL: Zachbrady7@gmail.com.