First homer of season boosts Utes’ confidence

S-Baseball Colby Patterson
Cory Hunt is tagged out as he slides into home plate at Smith’s Ballpark. The Utes fell to Arizona 5-2. Photo by Chris Ayers.

Cory Hunt is tagged out as he slides into home plate at Smith’s Ballpark. The Utes fell to Arizona 5-2. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Utes are still experiencing the struggles that come with three starters being out with injury.

Nothing has changed regarding outfielder Tyler Yagi being out for the season because of a torn ACL, and infielder Dallas Carroll is still nursing a collarbone injury and the timetable for his return is unknown at the moment. Catcher AJ Young is still battling the effects of a concussion he sustained last month in a game against BYU.

“We have three starters, guys who would be in our lineup that haven’t been in virtually all year,” said head coach Bill Kinneberg. “Naturally that’s hurt our offensive production, but nobody is feeling sorry for us on that.”

TJ Bennett smashes first home run of the season for Utah 

The Utes must have seen the statistics concerning their offense. They sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 in most offensive categories and had yet to hit a home run entering last weekend’s series against Arizona.

Senior infielder TJ Bennett changed that. With the opening game of the series hanging in the balance, Bennett stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning and blasted Utah’s first dinger of 2014. Bennett made it count, as he did it with the bases loaded.

The grand slam sealed the deal for the Utes as they captured their first Pac-12 win of the season after waiting for four weeks to get it. Junior infielder Biss Larsen said Bennett’s homer not only gave the team the lift it needed to close out that game, but that it helped build confidence toward moving forward.

“I mean, obviously it was a turning point in the game,” Larsen said. “We were kind of fighting neck and neck up until that point. We’ve been struggling to get those key hits, so for him to come through like that with guys on really gave us that spark.”

Pressure of the Pac-12 bothering the Utes? 

Utah is 1-11 in conference play thus far, and many of the games have followed the same script. The Utes will start strong but then allow one big inning from the opponent to ruin their chances for victory.

Players recognize the entire team needs play hard for nine innings every game and not just a few frames here and a few frames there. Senior outfielder Braden Anderson said now they have a conference victory, the Utes can’t be satisfied with the breakthrough. Every game will matter more now, and the team has to push until the end.

They realize the Pac-12 is arguably the toughest baseball conference in the country and that playing elite athletes every game can be difficult, but they don’t feel overmatched in any contest.

“We try not to separate teams based on who they are and what conference they are in,” Anderson said. “It’s always more pressure playing against a conference team. It’s based on how well you’re going to do, and you always want to do well in the [Pac-12].”

i.smith@chronicle.utah.edu