Late-Inning Heroics Lift Utah Over Wolverines, 7-6
SALT LAKE CITY – Despite the start of the game being delayed by over two hours due to inclement weather in the area, the Utah baseball team (15-9-1) pulled ahead in the late innings and hung on for a 7-6 win over Utah Valley on Tuesday night at Smith's Ballpark.
Originally scheduled for a 6:05 p.m. first pitch, the contest was pushed back due to lightning in the vicinity of the ballpark. Rain followed for a period in which the field was tarped, then, finally, the tarp was removed and the ballgame began at 8:18 p.m.
Multi-hit performances came on the night from Landon Frei and Jayden Kiernan, including a pair of opposite field hits for Kiernan that each scored a run. Alex Baeza, while finishing 0-for-2, had two crucial sacrifice flies during the game and Kai Roberts scored a pair of runs--including the ultimate game-winning tally.
TJ Clarkson extended his team-leading reached base streak to 23 consecutive games and Roberts pushed his own run to 21 straight contests.
On the mound, Zac McCleve went the final 2.1 innings to pick up the win (1-1), during which McCleve allowed a pair of hits, did not walk anyone and struck out three batters. Dusty Schramm pitched two innings of one-run ball earlier in the game with a strikeout, and Jaden Harris retired five of the six batters he faced. Blake Whiting made his first start as a Ute, fanning four in his two innings on the bump.
The Utes quickly struck first and put up three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Roberts led off, working the count full before being hit by a pitch and came all the way around when Frei smacked a double to deep left center. Two batters later, a perfectly-executed hit-and-run saw Kiernan lace a double into the right field corner to plate Frei. Baeza wrapped up the scoring for the inning with the first of two sac flies, this one bringing home TJ Clarkson and giving Utah a 3-0 lead.
But UVU battled back and leveled the score at three-all by the third inning. Baeza would put the home club back in front in the bottom of the frame on another sac fly, with Chase Anderson coming across to score on the play.
Seven men came to bat for the Wolverines in the visiting half of the fourth, tallying three runs along the way and taking a 6-4 lead. The visitors' lead was short-lived though.
After Matt Richardson led off the bottom of the fourth legging out a double to left center and dodging a tag at second base, Carter Booth sent an 0-1 pitch down the right field line and turned on the jets, driving in Richardson to tie the score at six while Booth slid into third base with his team-leading fourth triple of the season.
Pitching was the story in both the fifth and sixth innings, with just a throwing error in the top of the fifth getting in the way of 1-2-3 frames for both teams.
McCleve came on in a tough situation, still deadlocked in a 6-6 game in the seventh with two on and two out. But he got out of it unharmed, winning a six-pitch at bat with a strikeout to end the threat.
The Utes pulled back in front after seventh inning stretch and would not relinquish the lead. Roberts led off the inning drawing a four-pitch walk, moved up to second on a wild pitch and took third on a single from Frei with nobody out. It looked like UVU might have a chance to get out of the inning after a caught stealing plus a strikeout, but Kiernan stepped into the box and again went to right field—this time with a base hit to bring Roberts across the plate, giving Utah a 7-6 lead.
There was a chance for some Utah insurance in the eighth inning, but a strikeout ended a bases-loaded threat.
UVU did not go down quietly in the ninth. While McCleve retired his first two batters, one by strikeout, the Wolverines put the tying run at second base when Mitch Moralez smacked a double to the wall in left center. But McCleve calmly got back on the mound, and on the next pitch got Mick Madsen to fly out and end the ballgame with a Utes triumph.
The Utes now turn their focus toward resuming Pac-12 Conference play with a three-game series at Washington State. Action begins on Friday, April 1 in a 4:05 p.m. MT game in Pullman, Washington.
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