Late inning pitching woes cost Utes sweep

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

Just as Utah was on the verge of sweeping a tough opponent on the road, recent history repeated itself.

The Utah baseball team took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning on a two-run Kevin Hussey home run, only to surrender the final three runs of the game as Gonzaga edged out the Utes 3-2 to split the two-game series Wednesday afternoon in Spokane, Wash.

Hussey finished the series batting .500 with five RBIs and three runs.

During the past week, Utah’s relief pitching has either cost the Utah baseball team a win or compromised a big lead late. Wednesday afternoon, the starting pitcher continued that trend as Joe Pond allowed two runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth after pitching five scoreless innings. Tyler Andersen pitched Utah out of further damage to end the inning, but after Bennett Askew pitched a scoreless seventh, he loaded the bases and plunked Jason Chatwood to allow the eventual tying run in the bottom of the eighth.

At 14-5, Gonzaga entered the midweek series at opposite ends of the record spectrum compared to the 8-11 Utes. That didn’t stop Utah from using a 9-8 extra-innings win over then-No. 14 TCU last week to help snap Gonzaga’s eight-game winning streak. Utah’s offense exploded for 16 runs in the series opener on Tuesday to hand the Bulldogs their first home loss of the season. Despite the seven-run win, Utah allowed seven runs after the fifth inning, with five of those coming at the hands of the relievers.

Wednesday afternoon, their late-inning woes did the Utes in.

Evan Wells and Drew Heid led off the sixth with back-to-back singles for Gonzaga. Wells then advanced to third on a sacrifice fly before Anthony Synegal singled him in for the Bulldogs’ first run of the game. Pond then walked back-to-back batters, allowing Heid to score and tying the game at 2-2. Gonzaga manufactured two runs with two outs, chasing Pond out of the game.

Utah started the game’s scoring in the top of the fifth when Tyler Yagi led off the inning with a single to left field. After Devin Walker struck out, Hussey jacked an 0-2 pitch over the right field fence to temporarily put Pond in line for the win.

Utah could not capitalize on a Devin Walker double that led off the seventh as Hussey and Zach Jones failed to advance the runner by grounding out to the left side of the infield. After Corey Shimada was intentionally walked, Michael Beltran struck out, stranding two of Utah’s seven base runners on the afternoon.

After each team traded three-up, three-down inning halves to bridge the bottom of the seventh with the top of the eighth, Ryan Weigand walked before Synegal struck again for the Zags with one out and one on in the bottom of the eighth. He sent an 0-2 pitch to the gap in right center for a double, advancing Weigand to third. Askew intentionally walked the next batter to open up a force-out play at any base. Askew struck out Grant Kvender to put the Utes within one out of escaping the bases-loaded jam, but he hit Chatwood with a 1-0 pitch to allow the winning run to cross home.

Hussey’s walk in the top of the ninth put the tying win on base for the Utes with two outs before Jones flied out to right to end the game.

Utah will return home for one day’s rest before playing a four-game home stand that starts with a three-game set against Southern Utah on Friday, if weather permits. Utah will finish off its non-conference schedule against Utah Valley University at home Monday before beginning Mountain West Conference play with a trip to Las Vegas to face UNLV on April 3.

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