Six-Run Third Inning Keys Rubber Game Win Over No. 20 Arizona
SALT LAKE CITY – Highlighted by a six-run third inning which saw catcher Britt Graham's first collegiate triple, the Utah baseball team claimed a dominant 11-4 rubber game win on Saturday over No. 20 nationally-ranked Arizona at Smith's Ballpark.
The Utes conclude a seven-game home stand on Tuesday, April 19 against BYU in a 6 p.m. MT game at Smith's Ballpark.
Utah (20-14-1, 7-8 Pac-12) secured its first series win over Arizona since the 2018 season, as well as its first triumph in a three-game set vs. a ranked opponent since that year. It's also the fastest that Utah has reached 20 wins since the 2011 club did so in 35 games.
Every player in the lineup for the Utes Saturday had a hit, led by designated hitter Jayden Kiernan (3-for-5) and first baseman Alex Baeza (3-for-4). Third baseman Chase Anderson (2-for-5) and Graham (2-for-5) also had multi-hit performances. Graham's triple came with the bases loaded, and both Anderson and shortstop Matt Richardson had two RBI. Anderson and Baeza each logged two doubles.
On the mound, Ben Kibbe (3-2) picked up the win in relief of starter Cam Day. Kibbe went 1.2 innings with a hit and two walks allowed, before Zac McCleve came on for the final 3.2 innings. McCleve earned his third save of the year after holding Arizona to one hit and one walk, striking out four along the way.
After Arizona went up 3-0 in the first two innings, Utah got a pair of runs back in the bottom of the second. Baeza doubled to right field on a ball that rolled to the wall scoring left fielder TJ Clarkson, then Richardson hit a single that hopped off the pitcher's mound and up the middle allowing Baeza to come around and score.
The Wildcats would go back up by a pair, 4-2, in the third inning, but a six-spot for the Utes put the home club ahead for the rest of the day. All of Utah's six runs in the frame came with two outs as the team sent 11 batters to the plate.
Kiernan kicked off the scoring with a single up the middle to plate second baseman Landon Frei. Three batters later, Richardson drew a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to bring in Clarkson and level the score at four. Then, on a 2-1 pitch, Graham laced one to the gap in right center field, earning his first extra-base hit as a Ute and first collegiate triple. It scored Baeza, Kiernan and Richardson. Center fielder Carter Booth wrapped up the offense for the inning with an RBI single to plate Graham from third, and give Utah an 8-4 lead.
That score remained until the seventh inning, when Frei's sacrifice fly allowed Richardson to come home, before Anderson won an eight-pitch at bat with a two-run double down the right field line and into the corner. It scored Booth and right fielder Kai Roberts and brought the ballgame to its final score of 11-4.
McCleve came back out for the eighth and worked a 1-2-3 inning, before recovering from a walk and double in the ninth with two K's and a ground out to seal the result. It capped a solid outing for the local product from West Valley City, Utah, who inherited a bases-loaded situation with one out in the sixth inning of an 8-4 game. With the tying run at the plate, McCleve worked a pop out and ground ball to escape the jam unharmed. It was the third time in this series that a Utah reliever inherited the bases loaded, and all three times no runs scored.
McCleve pitched in all three games of the series, dealing a total of 5.2 shutout innings with six strikeouts, three walks and two hits.
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