One swing of the bat and the 2012 Great West Conference Tournament Championship felt secure for the Utah Valley University baseball team.
With the game tied 4-4 in the eighth inning, it was Billy Burgess who stepped to the plate and lifted a ball over the left field wall for a two-run dinger that gave the Wolverines the lead for good and secured the eventual 10-6 victory over Houston Baptist.
As if the go-ahead bomb wasn’t enough, Burgess earned Conference Tournament MVP honors after going 7-for-12 with three homeruns and eight RBI in tourney play.
Burgess finished 2-for-4 in the championship game.
“Billy is an incredible player,” UVU coach Eric Madsen said. “He’s done it game after game, time after time, and he’s just a special person.”
For the Wolverines, the win caps a season that saw them finish 47-12 overall and a perfect 29-0 in Great West action—not to mention the national attention the Wolverines garnered while winning 40 of their last 41 games.
For Madsen, anything less than a shot at the college baseball Regionals would be unfair.
“I haven’t thought about it a lot before, but now we will,” Madsen said of a shot at the Regionals. “I think we’ve done everything we can do to control our destination. If somebody doesn’t give these guys a chance to play, I don’t know that that’s very fair.”
After Burgess broke the tie in the eighth inning, the hitting got contagious—as a Kai Hatch single was followed by back-to-back doubles from Alex Exon and Cole Butcher.
“The whole game we were hitting it hard, but just couldn’t get it to fall,” Burgess said. “The pitcher had thrown me the same pitch on the first pitch of my previous at bats and luckily I hit it to a spot where the wend couldn’t stop it.”
Jake Rickenbach singled in two more runs in the UVU half of the eighth inning to give the Wolverines a 9-4 lead.
After Houston Baptist, which was acting as the home team in the tournament format, picked up two runs in the home half of the eighth inning it was a solo shot from Exon that tacked on another UVU run and put the Wolverines up 10-6.
Exon, who earned All-Tournament honors, finished the game 4-for-5 from the plate.
Houston Baptist seemed like a team determined to hang a conference loss on the Wolverines early in the contest—after four second inning hits led to three runs and a quick 3-0 lead.
But UVU pitcher Jeremy Gendlek settled in and had little trouble with the Huskies through the remainder of his 6 1/3 innings of work.
“For a guy to come back on three days rest and pitch out of jam after jam, wWhat he did, I think, was really the difference of the game,” Madsen said of Gendlek’s effort.“
With Gendlek finding his form on the bump, the UVU offense began a comeback—starting with a Butcher run-scoring single and a Sean Moysh sacrifice fly in the third inning that cut the Houston Baptist lead to 3-2.
Exon singled in Burgess in the fourth inning for the game-tying run before a Willie Pratt base knock scored Hatch in the sixth inning to put the Wolverines up 4-3.
The Huskies fought to a 4-4 tie in the seventh inning but were unable to overcome the crooked eighth inning hung up by the UVU offense.
“We’ve been working hard,” Burgess added. “Our ultimate goal is to try and get into a Regional and this will help us have the possibility to play.”
The Wolverines now play the waiting game as the team awaits a potential selection to the Regionals on Monday.
“Our guys have stayed together all year. They trust each other and they trust our approach,” Madsen said. “We have such a great team. This is a special group.”