With just three more three-game home series left to be played, the University of Utah baseball team (19-19, 9-12 Pac-12) enters its final stretch of the regular season with a non-conference series against the University of California, Riverside (16-24, 4-11 BWC) this week. The action gets underway Thursday with first pitch set for 7 p.m. MT., and is followed by Friday’s game at 6 p.m. MT. The weekend series concludes Saturday with game three at 11:30 a.m. MT at Smith’s Ballpark.
Although this is a break from Pac-12 competition, Utah knows the competitiveness it has when it faces conference opponents needs to still be present when it meets UC Riverside on the diamond.
“Just cause it’s not a [Pac-12] series it’s still really important for our postseason hopes,” said catcher Zack Moeller.
Head coach Bill Kinneberg added that these games are big for Utah as far as its RPI goes. Right now, the Utes sit at 49 on the RPI chart.
The Utes head into the matchup having recently dropped two of three games to Washington State over the weekend. Utah did not make much offensive noise against the Cougars, but the team is hoping to get its offense back up and running with the Highlanders rolling into town.
In the loss to the Cougars, Utah did not play the way that Kinneberg knows his athletes are capable of doing. After Utah swept then ranked No. 7 Arizona on the road the week prior, this defeat left a sting. Utah was run a little off the tracks by the blow, but Moeller believes Utah is not far off from where it needs to be.
“Baseball is a weird game like that,” Moeller explained. “Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re not. I think we’re still in a good spot.”
UC Riverside comes into the contest having recently won a series against UC Santa Barbara where it took two of the three games. In midweek action on Wednesday afternoon, the Highlanders fell to Fresno State.
The Highlanders will be going up against the second best team in the Pac-12 in terms of batting average. Utah is batting .289 on the season, and with offensive stars like DaShawn Keirsey, Jr. and Dallas Carroll, the two are a big part in making the offense come alive. Keirsey Jr. ranks second in the conference in hits with 60 so far this season and he leads Utah with 20 multiple-hit games. Keirsey Jr. is hitting .353, and Carroll is putting up a .382 batting average. Carroll is the third best player in the conference at getting on base with a .462 on-base percentage and a .599 slugging percentage. On the other side of the ball defensively, Utah holds a 3.92 ERA.
On the mound for Utah, Jayson Rose (5-2) will open up the weekend contest with a possible shot at tying or breaking the university’s career strikeout record. Rose has a total of 232 strikeouts, and hd needs four more to tie Jason Price’s record of 236 that was set over the span of 2003-06. Rose, who holds a 3.57 ERA, has 58 strikeouts this season, and that ranks him seventh in the Pac-12.
Riley Ottesen (4-2) is scheduled to start Friday. Ottesen owns an ERA of 4.37, and he has 46 strikeouts over 68 innings. Josh Lapiana (3-5) is expected to close the weekend. A 4.30 ERA belongs to the junior, and he has 43 strikeouts over 58 2/3 innings pitched.
As the regular season slowly comes to a close, and the final series are now being counted down on one hand, Utah wants to keep pushing it until the end. That desire to see success continues this week when they meet UC Riverside under the lights.