The time has finally arrived for fans to take in some conference action at Smith’s Ballpark as the University of Utah baseball team (10-12, 1-5 Pac-12) plays in its Pac-12 home opener against the Oregon Ducks (16-6, 4-2 Pac-12) beginning Thursday night. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT. Play continues on Friday at 5 p.m. MT before the last game of the series takes place Saturday at 12 p.m. MT.
The Utes head into the series having dropped their past nine of 10 games — including conferences losses to Washington and Stanford — and they most recently dropped a midweek game to BYU. As for the Ducks, they are coming off a midweek win against Portland, and it previously took on Washington and Cal where they won both series, taking two of the three games.
Third baseman Dallas Carroll continues to lead the Utah offense, and he is fourth in the league in batting average at .395. He has 34 hits on the season putting him in third place in the conference. He is averaging one strikeout every 14.3 at bats, and that makes him the second-toughest player in the league to strikeout. Carroll also leads the team in stolen bases going 4-for-5 ,and he has 11 multiple-hit games, which sets a team high.
Utah is third in the Pac-12 in batting average at .282, but the offense has been the biggest area of focus as the Utes have seemed to wither away when opportunities to score are placed right before them. According to head coach Bill Kinneberg, the offense has been hurting the team at this point.
“They key to winning ballgames in this league is to pitch well, play good defense, and then get those timely hits,” Kinneberg said. “And that’s what’s eluded us the last two weekends is that timely hit.”
First baseman Hunter Simmons believes that having the right mentality will help Utah take advantage and capitalize in certain situations.
“You really just have to tell yourself listen,” Simmons said. “I’ve done this before, I’ve been in this situation before. I just have to relax and not worry about it.”
As the offense gets worked on, the pitching is something that also has some kinks that need to be straightened out. For the most part, the pitching has been decent, but against BYU the Utes were forced to use eight pitchers over a long nine innings.
“We’re not getting any separation early in games,” Kinneberg said.
Being able to get an early lead would help ease the bullpen, and it would present the opportunity for closer Dylan Drachler to be used more.
As for this weekend, Josh Lapiana, Jayson Rose, and Riley Ottesen are expected to start on the mound. Lapiana is 1-3 on the season with a 4.10 ERA. Over 26 1/3 innings he has had 22 strikeouts. Leading the team, Rose is also seventh in the Pac-12 with 34 strikeouts. After pitching an solid game last week — a shutout against Stanford — Rose is now 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Ottesen is slated to close the series on Saturday. The right-handed pitcher has a 2.63 ERA with a 3-1 record and has 26 strikeouts.
With the Ducks in town, the Utes are hoping to get some confidence back during this three-game series, but that requires the team to come up clutch all the way down the lineup.
“Some guys got to come through for us at the right time,” Kinneberg said. “And that’s contagious.”