The reigning Pac-12 Champions, the University of Utah baseball team (9-5), begins conference play this weekend on the road against the Washington Huskies (9-6). The three game series gets under way on Friday at 8 p.m. MT, followed by Saturday’s afternoon game at 3 p.m. MT. The series concludes Sunday at 3 p.m. MT at Husky Ballpark. The Utes are coming off a loss after dropping their first midweek game of the season on Wednesday against Nevada, 9-4. The Huskies’ most recent competition was against Indiana State where they split the four-game series.
The last time the Utes and Huskies met on the diamond was last season for the Pac-12 Championship when things came down to the wire. The Utes clinched the final two games of the regular season to win the championship and earn a bid to the NCAA regionals. That historic moment may be on some of the athletes’ minds this weekend, but for head coach Bill Kinneberg, this series is a reminder that it is not only a new season, but that the conference grind begins once again.
“It starts over. They did an unbelievable job last year, but that’s last year,” Kinneberg said. “The target’s on our back a little bit instead of the other way around. We’re going to have to get tough. We’re going to have to play really well. Our league’s really good. It will be a great challenge this weekend in Washington.”
The Utes begin Pac-12 competition second in the conference with a .304 batting average and a .401 on base percentage. With a .422 slugging percentage, that puts the Utes in third place in the league. Third baseman Dallas Carroll continues to pave the way for the Ute offense. Carroll leads the Pac-12 in hits per game at 1.79, and he is second in the conferences with a .439 batting average. He ranks nationally in both those categories. Carroll is also averaging one strikeout every 14.3 at bats making him one of the toughest to strike out.
In the Utes’ loss to Nevada this week they used five pitchers. Josh Lapiana, Jacob Rebar, Chase Bauerle, Trenton Stoltz and Josh Tedeschi. Pitching will be important in this weekend’s series against the Huskies and as they continue through out Pac-12 play. The Utes have plenty of pitching depth, but improving and getting stronger will be a key factor in how far the group can go.
Riley Ottesen, who worked his way up to becoming a starter this season on the mound, has been able to hold things down nicely. He is 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA and he has 19 strikeouts. That ties him and Jayson Rose for the team lead. Rose has a 4.57 ERA and he won the past two games where he pitched against the University of Texas at San Antonio and New Mexico State. Last season, Rose pitched game one of the Utah and Washington series where he tied Utah’s single-season strikeout record at 102 after striking out six. Rose, Ottesen and Lapiana are projected to start this weekend.
The Utes, who finished with a 19-11 conference record last year, are looking forward to seeing what their team can accomplish with a new group of guys.
“I think we’re extremely ready. We’ve been ready all season,” said center fielder DaShawn Keirsey, Jr. “We’re just excited to play good competition.”