An exciting three-game series against Washington capped off what has been an unprecedented regular season run for Utah baseball. The team that hadn’t finished better than last place in the conference since leaving the Mountain West became the university’s first men’s team— and just the third team all together— to capture a Pac-12 title.
Heading into the series, the Utes held a narrow one-game lead over the Huskies, but conference championship aspirations weren’t the only things on the line. Utah’s 23-26 overall record would require the team to win at least two games in its final series of the year to secure the automatic postseason bid awarded to the Pac-12 champion.
On Friday, Jayson Rose opened the series on the mound for the Utes. Despite encountering a rough stretch in the fourth and fifth innings— in which he allowed four runs on four hits and walked three batters— Rose racked up six strikeouts through eight innings. This pushed his season total to 102, breaking the program’s single-season strikeout record that had stood for the past 12 years.
The Utes, who had been hitting well but failing to capitalize with their baserunners, exhibited a burst of life in the bottom of the sixth when three back-to-back singles set up a base-clearing RBI double from Andre Jackson. This late surge would not be enough, and Utah fell 5-4, turning the remaining two games of the series into must-wins for the underdog.
Despite the increased urgency caused by the loss, head coach Bill Kinneberg felt that the team was not discouraged by the result of the first game and was even more confident moving ahead.
“I don’t think the [mindset] was any different than it ever is,” Kinneberg said. “We came out into the ballpark just like we did every other day, it was great. We were loose, happy, having fun, it never changed.”
The team may have remained relaxed following the loss, but there was no drop off in intensity in either dugout. Both Utah and Washington came out and scored two runs apiece to get things underway in the second game.
In the third and fourth innings, Washington added two more runs before Utah was able to fire back in the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run from Josh Rose and a two-run inside-the-park home run courtesy of Deshawn Keirsey to put the Utes up 5-4.
In this sporadic back-and-forth fight, the Utah lead was-short lived, and after four unanswered Husky runs, the Utes found themselves trailing 8-5 as the game entered into the bottom of the seventh.
This is when the Utes, always dangerous in the late-game stages, would orchestrate one of the most incredible comebacks of their season. They scored seven runs in a single inning to put the Huskies away 12-8 and secured a share of the Pac-12 championship.
Evidently the Utah squad wasn’t looking for just a piece of the title, nor was it looking for anymore come-from-behind heroics. In the series finale, the Utes jumped on Washington early, scoring five-runs in the first inning.
With the season on the line, everything seemed to be going the Utes’ way. The team put on a clinic at the plate and lock-down pitcher Josh Lapiana tossed five scoreless innings while allowing just four runs over 8 1/3 innings played.
The Huskies on the other hand, struggled on the mound. They were forced to dive into their bullpen early and often, calling on eight different pitchers in a fruitless attempt to stop a supercharged Utah offense— one that recorded an astonishing four five-run innings and a season-high number of runs during the course of the 21-7 blowout.
“Ever since Oregon, I feel like we’ve been on a roll,” said senior Cody Scaggari, who went 3-4 and scored three runs in the lopsided victory. “We haven’t let go, we’ve been on the pedal, we haven’t slowed down, and we’re still going.”
After the final out of the of the three-and-a-half hour game, Ute players and coaches rushed the field to revel in the excitement of the historic victory, fueled by the cheers of the reported 6,000 in attendance at Smith’s Ballpark.
Kody Davis, a Taylorsville-native and one of seven Utahns on the team, relished the opportunity to hoist the Pac-12 championship trophy while surrounded by loved ones.
“[The home crowd] is huge. I feel like I have hundreds of fans and family here that have watched me play since I was two years old,” Davis said. “I’m happy that we could win it in front of them.”
Aside from earning sole-ownership of the Pac-12 title, with the series win over Washington, the Utes have punched their ticket to an NCAA Regional, the team’s first postseason appearance since 2009. Utah will discover where the next chapter in its Cinderella season takes place when the NCAA selection show airs Monday at 10:00 AM MST.