Baseball: Disappointment following loss to No. 14 OSU reveals big expectations

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Baseball: Disappointment following loss to No. 14 OSU reveals big expectations

Utah Baseball senior Kody Davis (3) throws the ball to first during the game vs. the UC Riverside at Smith's Ballpark on Saturday, April 16, 2016

Utah Baseball senior Kody Davis (3) throws the ball to first during the game vs. the UC Riverside at Smith's Ballpark on Saturday, April 16, 2016

Utah Baseball senior Kody Davis (3) throws the ball to first during the game vs. the UC Riverside at Smith's Ballpark on Saturday, April 16, 2016

Utah Baseball senior Kody Davis (3) throws the ball to first during the game vs. the UC Riverside at Smith's Ballpark on Saturday, April 16, 2016

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Losing the opening two games of the series against Oregon State by a combined score of 17-6 was a considerable letdown for the Utes, and after battling for five weeks to achieve an 8-4 conference record and secure a first-place spot in the Pac-12 standings, the team was faced with the possibility of getting swept by the 14th-ranked Beavers.

“We had opportunities in both of [the first two games] to win those, and that was a little disappointing. We didn’t pitch as well as we had been, and we didn’t take advantage of some other opportunities that we had,” said head coach Bill Kinneberg.

Heavy rain in the forecast necessitated the playing of a doubleheader, and the Utes took the field immediately after suffering a 7-2 defeat in the second game of the series to begin playing Game 3, determined to put the previous losses behind them and round out the weekend with a win against conference juggernaut OSU.

After Utah jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning, the teams battled relentlessly over the next few innings, with the Beavers emerging from the top of the fourth ahead 6-5. In the bottom of the fifth, the Utes’ bats came out strong, and it was sophomore outfielder Andre Jackson with a shot to right field sending home two runners for the 7-6 lead that would stand for the remainder of the game.

Last season, the Utes likely would have been enthusiastic about winning such a hard-fought game against a nationally-ranked opponent, but both players and coaches expressed their disappointment in losing the team’s second-straight conference series, evidence of the great strides the program has made within the conference and of the higher standards that are held by this year’s squad.

“It was a tough series,” Jackson said. “We thought that we could win, but [Oregon State] brought their sticks out. We didn’t play to the best of our ability, but I thought we still could have won the series at least.”

The team has developed an expectation to win every series — an expectation that holds even when facing one of the top teams in the country — and this unwavering self-confidence has shown through in the team’s attitude towards the upcoming home series against UCLA.

“We know what’s at stake for the rest of the Pac-12 conference, so we know what we have to do this weekend, but we can definitely take the momentum from that win and from practice into next weekend,” Jackson said. “It’s UCLA, so it’s always going to be a tough against them, but I think we have a good match-up this time.”

The Bruins (19-19, 9-9 Pac-12) are the defending conference champions, but Jackson and the Utes are optimistic that the team can rally and continue to extend their lead in the Pac-12 standings.

The first game of the series is anticipated to be a duel between two of the Pac-12’s best pitchers: Ute sophomore Jayson Rose, the conference leader in batters struck out, and UCLA’s Griffin Canning, the Pac-12 runner-up in strikeouts and innings pitched. The other two games of the series will be equally pivotal, as the Utes (tied for first place) and the Bruins (tied for fourth) have little margin for error as they vie for an NCAA Regional berth.

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