Ute Baseball Rights the Ship in Two Game Rout of Cougs

University+of+Utah+redshirt+junior+Justin+Kelly%2832%29+in+a+NCAA+Baseball+game+vs.+BYU+at+Smith%27s+Ballpark+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Thursday%2C+Mar.+11%2C+2021.+%28Photo+by+Kevin+Cody+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

University of Utah redshirt junior Justin Kelly(32) in a NCAA Baseball game vs. BYU at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Mar. 11, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By J. Prather

 

The University of Utah baseball team had their first home appearance of the season in a three game series played at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City for the first two, and Larry Miller Park in Provo for the finale. It was the first time Utah defended their home diamond in just two months shy of two years. It would end up being a two game series due to weather conditions in Provo, but the third will be made up in May.

The two games would see a different Utah team taking the diamond than fans have seen this season. Mound starters dominated on defense, and daring but confident offensive base running was the best the Utes have had so far. During the first game, at the top of the second BYU threatened advancing a runner to third but solid fielding from Utah and a strikeout from Justin Kelly closed the inning.

Facing BYU’s Easton Walker on the mound in the bottom of the second, singles from Tyler Thompson and Kayler Yates put runners on with one out. After Chase Fernlund flew out to center, Jaylon McLaughlin stepped up and battled to a full count. Looking to score the first runs of the game, McLaughlin made contact but came up short, grounding out to second base to end the inning.

Kelly retired BYU in three with help from the field in the third, and closed the fourth with a strikeout after allowing a hit. Batting in the bottom of the fourth, Brock Rudy reached first on an error and Thompson was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with one out. Fernlund singled on a grounder that made its way to center field, advancing Thompson to third and scoring Rudy. McLaughlin struck out swinging to end the inning with Utah up 1-0.

BYU looked like their answer would have to wait after a caught fly and a strikeout from Kelly, but with two outs Mitch McIntyre put the ball out of Utah’s reach in the left field corner to score Abraham Valdez, making it to second himself. 

After Utah ended their offensive half of fifth with three quick infield ground outs. Kelly opened the sixth with three straight Ks, his first solo three-up, three-down inning of the season. Rudy started off the bats for Utah in the sixth putting the ball just fair into right field. Vinny Zavolta followed and was down in the count when he took first after getting hit by a pitch. 

In the seventh with two outs BYU’s Peyton Cole doubled and Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg pulled Kelly off the mound, bringing in Matt Sox who started off by walking two to load the bases. A wild pitch from Sox allowed one run across the plate with BYU going up 2-1.

Utah answered in the bottom of the seventh. After McLaughlin singled and stole second, Christopher Rowan, Jr. stepped up to the plate with two outs and singled to right center field to bring McLaughlin home, tying the score at 2-2.

In the eighth, Thompson started off a late game rally for Utah with a single. Thompson moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Matt Richardson followed by a single from Fernlund putting Thompson on third. McLaughlin singled, scoring Thompson, followed up by a single from Jayden Kiernan to load the bases. Kai Roberts repeated the effort with a single, scoring Fernlund and McLaughlin. Rowan, Jr. next up was hit by a pitch to again load the bases. BYU walked one more before striking out Thompson on his second up to end the inning at 6-2 Utah.

Utah brought in Brayson Hurdsman to close and BYU shook him up with two down and a runner on when McIntyre tripled to center, scoring one. The next batter grounded out to end the game, giving Utah their second win of the season, their first since their opening series with Cal State Fullerton. 

Kelly played his best so far after a slow season start, coming off Tommy John surgery. In 6 innings he allowed 6 hits for 2 runs and a season high 6 strikeouts facing 27 batters.

Utah started off Friday’s game in Salt Lake hot from the win Thursday night. The Utes were dominant on the bags, aggressively stealing bases, advancing runners on wild pitches, capitalizing on walks and strategically sacrificing batters. Two walks and two singles in the third gave Utah their first run. 

A huge fourth inning followed for Utah that BYU would later try and fail to recover from. BYU’s Cy Nielson hit Zavolta with an inside pitch to lead off. Zavolta moved to second and then third on wild pitches, and a walk put Thompson on first. Shea Kramer stepped up and tripled to center to score two, and after took home himself on a single from Richardson.

BYU pulled Nielson from the mound in favor of Cooper McKeehan, who allowed another run before being retired for Luke Sterner. Sterner ended BYU’s nightmare fourth inning. Utah’s baserunning put this game out of reach, scoring four on two hits.

Utah repeated their performance in the sixth with a lead-off walk from Richardson followed by a bunt from Fernlund to put runners on first and second. Another wild pitch put Fernlund on second and Richardson on third. A sacrifice fly from McLaughlin scored Richardson and Kiernan singled to bring Fernlund across before the end of the inning. Utah was threatening a shutout with a 7-0 score until BYU scored one in the seventh. 

Similar to Kelly in the first game, Kyle Robeniol had a breakout game on the mound. He recorded his first win of the season, his first since 2019. In six innings pitched he allowed only two hits, no runs and retired eight batters with strikeouts. Coming in for Robeniol in the seventh, Randon Hostert allowed three hits for one run but struck out six putting on a closing clinic for BYU.

Snow postponed play of game three but the matchup will be made up on May 18 in Provo, first pitch time pending. Utah heads back out on the road this coming week to start off conference play against Stanford with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. MST on Friday, March 19.

 

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@JP_at_TheChrony