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BYU baseball faces Creighton in huge weekend series

Cougars are in their toughest stretch of the season, can the Y overcome the Bluejays?

Hayden Nielsen rips a single
Hayden Nielsen rips a single
Keith Shirts/Vanquish The Foe

In a storybook season, BYU is currently in the chapter where the script writer builds up the adversity.

The Cougar baseball team finally lost a weekend series. They dropped two of three games in Moraga against co-WCC leaders St. Mary's last weekend. BYU's bats finally slowed down against the Gaels. As a team, the Y hit .267 for the series -- they entered the series hitting .336 (4th best in the nation).

As a result, scoring runs came more difficult. As a team, they manufactured four, four, and five runs in each game. Four across home plate ties the mark for the lowest run output in a game this season. BYU has been lethal at putting tallies up on the scoreboard. They still sit as the 4th best scoring team in the nation with 8.8 runs per game.

With a young bullpen, BYU must give the run support they typically have if they are going to keep piling on the wins.

BYU (27-7, 10-5 WCC) has run into a three-way tie for 1st place in the conference with both St. Mary's and Gonzaga.

The Cougars are 4-4 over their past eight games overall.  When put in perspective, it is extremely nice that the rough patch of a season is playing .500 baseball.

Adding to the difficulty going forward are injuries.

Maverik Buffo (6-2, 3.63 ERA) was taken out of the game after 0.2 innings last Friday due to a setback with his arm. No report of his condition or the severity although he isn't scheduled to get a start this weekend against Creighton. It was announced today that Buffo sustained a season-ending ulnar collateral ligament injury. The right-handed Buffo was BYU's #2 in the rotation and was giving BYU a chance to win most every time he stepped on the mound.

2B Brennon Anderson has missed several games now due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. He is reported to be out for two weeks. Anderson is on week two of his injury recovery and will miss the Creighton series. Anderson's .330 BA, three HRs, 33 RBIs have been missed at the plate by the Cougars.

Freshman RF Kyle Dean has been out for nearly a month now recovering from a stress reaction in his back. It was estimated that Dean would be out for six weeks. It'll be mid-May before BYU may add the exciting freshman back into the lineup.

Of course, BYU was going to drop a series at some point and deal with some injuries. It is a long season. The depth at both 2B and RF, Noah Hill, Daniel Schneemann, and Keaton Kringlen, have done well in covering for the injured.

How will the starting pitching depth and bullpen hold up losing an inning eating arm like Buffo's?

BYU will find out against the talented Big East Conference leaders #25 Creighton Bluejays. Creighton has a 25-8 record and represent the first ranked opponent that the Cougars play in 2016. As such, this home series is particularly critical for BYU's NCAA Tournament resume.

Creighton's strength is in their pitching. The Bluejays lead the nation in team ERA with 2.29. Finding a good pitch to hit will be difficult against their starting duo of Rollie Lacy and Jeff Albrecht.

The 6-foot-3 185-pound righty Lacy has controlled his pitches all season. He has 38 strikeouts with eight walks in 54.1 innings with 50 hits allowed. All of this has resulted in a 1.99 ERA and a 6-1 record.

Standing at 5-foot-10 220-pound lefty Albrecht has been just as difficult for batters to solve. At 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA, Albrecht has been lights out allowing 18 hits and 10 walks with 21 K's  in 33.2 innings pitched.

If the starters pitch count gets high, the bullpen is talented enough to keep posting zeros on the scoreboard.

Part of the success of the pitcher comes from the Bluejays excellent team fielding percentage of .980.

Creighton manufactures runs through aggression on the base paths as they average two stolen base steal attempts per game. They draw walks and put together singles. They won't overwhelm anybody with their plate power as they only have five HRs as a team. (BYU's Colton Shaver has nine on his own.)

The Bluejays stars at the plate are Daniel Woodrow and Reagan Fowler. Woodrow hits .373 and is a menace on the base paths with 20 steals in 24 attempts. Fowler leads Creighton in RBIs with 24 while hitting .274.

BYU ace Michael Rucker (7-0, 2.55) will get the Cougars start to open the series. For Saturday's doubleheader, lefty Hayden Rogers will fill in for Buffo in the two spot and in the 2nd game freshman Jordan Wood will get his first start of his college career.

All the games will be broadcast on the radio on ESPN 960 AM. Friday's contest will be on BYUtv. Saturday's doubleheader will be available on theW.tv.

BYU rankings:

Poll Rankings
Perfect Game #20
USA Today Coaches #21
Collegiate Baseball Magazine #30
National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association #24

BYU's starters:

3 game series vs. Creighton Name Hand 2016 record 2016 ERA Year
Game 1: Friday, April 22, 6:00 MST Michael Rucker Right 7-0 2.21 Junior
Game 2: Saturday, April 23, 12:00 MST Hayden Rogers Left 4-0 3.21 Sophomore
Game 3: Saturday, April 23, 3:00 MST Jordan Wood Right 0-0 6.45 Freshman

Creighton starters:

3 game series Name Hand 2016 record 2016 ERA Year
Game 1 Rollie Lacy Right 6-1 1.99 Sophomore
Game 2 Jeff Albrecht Left 4-0 1.34 Junior
Game 3 Keith Rogalla Right 3-2 4.10 Sophomore

Vanquish The Foe's projected starting lineup:

Position Name Year Bats Throws 2016 HR 2016 RBI 2016 Batting Average
Catcher Bronson Larsen Junior Right Right 4 26 .303
1st Base Tanner Chauncey Junior Right Right 0 20 .389
2nd Base Daniel Schneemann Freshman Left Right 0 4 .313
3rd Base Nate Favero Sophomore Left Right 3 15 .347
Shortstop Hayden Nielsen Senior Right Right 1 26 .267
Left Field Eric Urry Senior Left Left 4 36 .264
Center Field Brennon Lund Junior Left Right 1 19 .408
Right Field Keaton Kringlen Freshman Right Right 4 19 .367
Designated Hitter Colton Shaver Sophomore Right Right 9 45 .411