Baseball: Following Strong Performances On The Mound, Utes Strike It Big At The Plate

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Baseball: Following Strong Performances On The Mound, Utes Strike It Big At The Plate

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Rolling with the momentum from a historic series win in their Pac-12 opener against Oregon, the Utes traveled to Tempe over the weekend for another conference road test against a skilled Arizona State squad.

The series with the Ducks showcased a talented Utah bullpen and was capped off by a gem of a performance from sophomore Josh Lapiana, who threw his first complete-game shutout as a Ute in the final game of the series. In the team’s first game against the Sun Devils, the pitching looked equally locked-down.

Utah’s Jayson Rose kicked off the series pitching a stellar eight innings and allowed just one run before Riley Ottesen and Dylan Drachler closed out game. The strong performance on the mound was not a surprise after stellar pitching led the team to victory the previous weekend, but the team’s solid at-bats and clutch scoring gave the Utes the 3-1 victory and marked another notable improvement in the team’s offense.

“We came off of a big series win, and I think we didn’t want to be satisfied with it and came out with a chip on our shoulder, wanting to prove something,” said freshman DaShawn Keirsey, Jr., who scored one of the Utes’ three runs in Thursday’s competition and accounted for three of the team’s hits last Saturday.

Scoring enough runs to back up the pitching and overcome early deficits was somewhat of a challenge earlier in the season, and the Utes have struggled to find consistency at the plate. In nine of the team’s games prior to the series against Arizona State, the team had been held to two or fewer runs, but in the recent series against Oregon, the team combined for 11 runs and did a good job of getting runners on base and in scoring position.

Despite the team’s offensive improvements against the Ducks and in the opening game of the series against ASU, Utah was on the receiving end of a Sun Devil no-hitter in Friday’s matchup and found itself down a run heading into the bottom of the eighth inning of the final game on Saturday.

While it appeared the run-scoring production the Utes had enjoyed in several of their last games was beginning to falter, in possibly its best offensive showing of the season, the team went on a 10-0 run in the final two innings of the weekend to win the game, with Utah batters accounting for a remarkable 23 hits on the day.

“I think we were just locked in and focused that day before the game. We were ready to put that last game behind us and get the ball rolling,” Keirsey, Jr. said.

The tremendous comeback captured Utah’s first back-to-back conference series wins since leaving the Mountain West, but more importantly, it marks yet another time this season in which the Utes were able to overcome a deficit and finish a close game.

“Right now [the team’s greatest improvement] would just be being able to punch back. That has been our problem in the past, opposing teams would put up a run or two and the attitude on offense was kind of just to give in,” said senior Kellen Marruffo, who went a team-best 3-for-5 with one RBI on Thursday.

Marruffo also believes the team’s success correlates with a change in the mentality players have as they go up to bat and that the team is finding its offense niche playing small.

“This year I think a lot of effort and attitude is being put in to keep sending guys up to the plate, and whether by barrel, dink or hit over the middle infield, either way, as long as we get baserunners on, something good is bound to happen,” Maruffo said.

The Utes will look to keep stringing together solid pitching and run-scoring and put six weeks of traveling behind them as they host Arizona this weekend in a crucial three-game series. The Utes’ 4-2 conference record has them tied for first place with Cal, Washington and UCLA — a promising start for a team that finished dead-last in the Pac-12 just one year ago.

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