PROVO, Utah — The Santa Clara Broncos won their fourth consecutive West Coast Conference series with a 5-1 victory Saturday afternoon over the BYU Cougars at Miller Park. Santa Clara is now 14-10 in the WCC, marking their best win total since a 16-14 mark in 2004 conference play.
In his third start since returning to the rotation, Jacob Steffens (W, 2-4) pitched a career high 8.0 innings and allowed one earned run on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts. The Phoenix, Ariz. native faced no more than five batters in a single inning and retired seven in a row to end his outing and earn a second straight victory for the Broncos (24-27, 14-10 WCC).
"What can I say about Jake? The kid's a winner," head coach Dan O'Brien said. "That's two big-time outings against two very good offensive clubs on the road with a lot on the line. The kid just steps up. That's what winners do."
Steffens issued first pitch strikes to 24 of the 32 batters he faced in the ballgame, and held the BYU offense to seven hits after the Cougars tallied 31 in the first two games of the series. He retired the first two batters he faced in five of Saturday's eight innings.
"A lot of the balls they were hitting [Thursday and Friday] were up in the zone," Steffens said. "I was just trying to keep the ball down and give the hitters something they couldn't drive."
In his last two starts, the sophomore has allowed one earned run in 15.0 innings with 14 strikeouts. Steffens made seven straight appearances out of the bullpen March 13-April 19.
"When I go after guys and throw a lot of strikes, I've definitely seen how their approach changes," Steffens said. "Getting more innings has helped me grow as a starter."
BYU sophomore starter Kolton Mahoney (L, 5-6) allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits with two walks and six strikeouts in 6.0 innings.
Sophomore right fielder Kert Woods picked up his first hit of the series with a two-run single to right in the second inning. The ball bounced past senior right fielder Kelton Caldwell for an error, allowing freshman third baseman Max Kuhns to score from second and senior second baseman Zach Looney to score from first.
"Kert is quietly having a big year for us," O'Brien said. "He does more for this ballclub than any statistic can measure. He's a great ballplayer, a leader, and a quality human. That's why he stays so steady when he's struggling and comes up big when the team needs it most."
Woods struck for the second time on an RBI double in the fourth to give Santa Clara its largest lead of the series at 3-0. Senior center fielder Greg Harisis followed with his fourth home run of the season to make the score 5-0 Broncos. The outfield tandem combined for all four of Santa Clara's RBIs on the afternoon.
"I was seeing fastballs up in the zone," Woods said. "I saw a breaking ball kept down pretty well. [Mahoney] elevated a few fastballs in fastball counts, and I got good swings on those balls."
Sophomore Reece Karalus pitched a scoreless ninth for the Broncos, allowing singles with one out and two outs in his second appearance of the series.
Freshman catcher Stevie Berman went a team-best 3-for-5 on the afternoon, and Looney scored a pair of runs and walked twice. Seven of Santa Clara's nine starters combined for the team's 10 hits and eight starters reached base safely in the victory. The Broncos are 9-3 in their last 12 West Coast Conference games after the series victory.
"The key to our recent success in conference is not focusing on any of it," O'Brien said. "Staying true to our philosophy means you separate each game, you don't care who or where we play, and you don't spend time worrying about the scoreboard or conference standings. Bouncing back today from a brutal loss yesterday, for example, shows that this team can take a punch, and punch right back. One game, one inning at a time with no care of who or where we're playing, that's all we care about."
Santa Clara returns to action Friday, May 16, 2014 for the final series of the regular season at home against the Saint Mary's Gaels. The Broncos remain in the hunt for a top four spot in the conference and a berth to the WCC Baseball Championship.
Game Notes: First pitch was at 1:06 p.m. … time of game was 2:32 … attendance was 1,169.