Utes fall in first game of tourney

By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

After storming through the Mountain West Conference Tournament to earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament in almost 50 years, the Ute baseball team fell to the Cal State Fullerton Titans 18-2 in the opening round of the NCAA Baseball Championships.

The Titans, ranked fourth in the nation and the regional’s top seed, jumped out to an early 1-0 first-inning lead and never looked back.

“Tonight wasn’t the way we wanted to start. We didn’t handle it on the defensive side,” said head coach Bill Kinneberg. “They played unbelievable defense, and were on it offensively.”

After posting four runs in the second, Cal State Fullerton”s potent offense, led by Khris Davis who went three for five with four RBIs, chased Utah starting pitcher Jordan Whatcott from the game in the third.

“They were on Whatcott’s breaking ball and fastball,” said Kinneberg.

Down 9-0 in the top of the fifth, Tyler Yagi’s two-out base hit enabled Nick Kuroczko to put Utah on the board with a two-run homer.

That was all Utah could muster against Titan pitcher Noe Ramirez, who gave up seven hits and recorded eight strikeouts in seven innings of work.

Titan head coach, Dave Serrano was appreciative of his pitcher’s effort.

“Noe did a good job overcoming nerves even if he doesn’t want to admit it,” Serrano said.

Despite the large lead, the Titans’ offense continued to bring in runs. They took advantage of a shaky Utah defense to tally nine more runs in their final three offensive frames.

“I’d say that was our best onslaught of the year. We had our way a little bit, but tomorrow’s a new day and starts 0-0,” said Serrano.

Being the first Ute baseball team to play in an NCAA Tournament game in 49 years, it was not the way Utah envisioned its return to the national spotlight.

Utah’s five errors tied a season high, and the 18 runs given up is the third most Utah’s pitching staff has allowed all year.

Kinneberg said he believes that nerves likely played a role in his team’s sloppy play.

“We were a little nervous tonight,” he said.

Fortunately for Utah, Georgia Southern awaits in the elimination game, rather than Fullerton, which was as impressive as any team the Utes faced this season.

“Irvine was similar but not this extreme. We have not played anyone like Fullerton,” said Kinneberg.

The Utes have a quick turnaround, as they will play Saturday at 3 p.m. Kinneberg stressed the importance of not letting the margin of defeat affect the team’s mindset.

“Whether 3-2 or 18-2, a loss is a loss,” he said.

“We just need to flush this game out of our minds,” said second baseman Corey Shimada.

Nick Kuroczko had an even simpler assessment of what the Utes need to do be more successful against Georgia Southern.

“We need to hit better, play better,” Kuroczko said.

[email protected]