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Home Stretch: A Midseason Look at the Utah Baseball Team

In this episode, Stevie, Kyle and Brooke talk about the Utah baseball players that have been catching our attention, and give their insights into why the baseball team is having more success this year.
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Note: This episode was recorded on April 10. Many cited stats have changed. 



Stevie Shaughnessey: Hi and welcome back to Home Stretch, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. My name is Stevie and I’ll be your host. Today, I’m here with podcast hosts Kyle and Brooke to take a midseason in-depth look at the Utah baseball team. So what has been the biggest difference from this season to last season?

Brooke Hale: I personally think the overall performance is just much better. Like the batting average of the team is overall better, and the pitching and the infield and outfield. It kind of just looks like they’re meshing so much better and it just looks like an overall better performance than the past couple of years. So, super exciting to see that they’re starting to mesh at the top of the Pac and it’s just exciting to see like what they can do. 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I mean, last year, we ended the season 22-32-1 and right now we’re sitting at 21-10. We’re one win away from matching our season win total and we still have about 25 games left to go in this season. So you can just see just from looking at the record that everything’s kind of clicking for them. And I mean, their roster isn’t much different than last year. We have some guys that were on the team last year that are doing great things this year again. Kai Roberts, he’s played 31 games this year, and he’s sitting at a 1.087 OPS. He’s just looking really comfortable at the plate. Five home runs. Leads a team and hits with 47. Moving well on the bags, he’s confusing pitchers. He’s stealing, stealing bags. He has 21 stolen bags on 25 attempts. So he’s moving well out there. The base coaches are just putting them in the correct positions to succeed. [Core Jackson] as well is absolutely killing it, putting up some pretty good numbers at .339 batting average with a .924 OPS. And just again, moving well, getting stolen bases and on not that many attempts. There’s not a lot of times he’s getting thrown out at second. So it’s been really cool to see, I’m excited for what they can do for the rest of the year.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, and I think also going off that, last season, the 2023 season, we had a lot of early losses. And in this season, we had a lot of early wins right off the bat. We beat CBU, we beat Pepperdine. It was just — obviously we came off swinging this year, and this year, the Utes built on a record breaking 7-1 to start the season. I think they just came in with a lot more confidence and a lot more energy to start off. Kind of going off that, what do you think the team needs to do to stay at the top of the Pac this year?

Brooke Hale: Yeah. So I mean, we play ASU, UW, UCLA, Oregon, U of A and USC left for series in the Pac, and U of A, Oregon, are all currently above Utah. So if Utah can get some of those wins, win the series, that will get them in a really good position for postseason. Especially if we want to go postseason, we got to stay in the top four in the Pac to get us in like a good seating. So also, those are some big wins that we can get, but also coming off a loss with BYU. That’s a game that we should be winning to get us in a winning record. So just like little things like that, I think moving forward to get those maybe not series wins, but like a game like that is especially so important to get the win there.

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, last year, I mean, it was definitely a struggle for the baseball team. They were 9-20-1 and dead last in the Pac-12 conference. And this year, it’s been a completely different story. Looking back kind of at their schedule last year, those conference three-game series, they would always find a way to fall short, they would, you know, drop two or three. But this year, it’s been really exciting to see that we’ve been able to win those series. On the road at Washington State, we pulled out two out of the three games. Against Stanford, we were again able to pull out two out of the three games and just win series and stack wins together, which is just going to be huge down the stretch coming in a really good Pac-12 conference. They are really competitive, really tough. The top of the conference is really tight right now and it could go either way. I believe we’re sitting at [four] right now, and I would not be surprised if we shot our way up and passed Oregon State. I mean, Oregon State’s sitting at 8-3, and we’re 7-5, Arizona’s at 10-5. There’s like a lot of room for error for those teams. So it’s gonna be really exciting to see what they’re able to kind of do down the stretch of this year. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, for sure. And I know against BYU — Brooke mentioned it a little bit — but we should have had that game. I think we just got a little content in the moment. There were some plays that we definitely could have been better about. But still, they’re giving it their all even in those games where they’re losing. So, I know we’ve touched on players a little bit but who has been a standout player to you guys so far?

Brooke Hale: We had Micah Ashman on this episode a couple of weeks ago. I think he is just a player Utah does count on stepping in when games are close at the end of the game to get and pull those wins especially at Cal Berkeley. He stepped in to win the series at the end of the game, he just got the record for 18 saves in his career — just broke the record here at University of Utah, which is so awesome. So I think he’s been a player that’s been consistent through his college career and he’s been a standout player I personally think this season. Also, Drake Digiorno and Core Jackson are two players that are new this season and have stepped up to mesh in the infields, first base and shortstop. Those are obviously two huge positions for players to come in and find the role and I think those two players have done that really good and it has helped the team.

Kyle Garrison: Yeah. This year, our bats have been obviously a lot hotter, but I think that it really comes down to the pitching. I think the pitching staff has done a really good job getting those guys in positions to succeed. Last year, we, it just seemed like the guys would go out on the mound and they were unsure of what they wanted to do. Their pitch mix was a little scattered, and there just wasn’t a lot of consistency. But I mean, this year, these guys are going deep in games. They’re being able to play six, five, six innings and it’s really cool to see just our starters come in, not get hit hard early on and be able to kind of stay in the game. And it takes some pressure off of the guys like Micah Ashman who, you know, have to come in in those high leverage situations and try and save games. It just takes pressure off of them. It’s really cool to see, you know, Bryson Van Sickle and Merit Jones have been playing really well. Bryson is sitting at a 2.95 ERA and he’s leading the team in innings pitched with 42.2, which, I mean a 2.95 ERA for 42 innings is super impressive. I think that he’s really shown out this year. You know, I know last year, he got hit pretty hard early on, and it kind of screwed up his ERA, but he played better down the stretch and this year, he just looks like a completely different player though early on. He looks very settled, very comfortable. I’m excited about what he’s been, been able to do so far this year, and the rest of our pitching has just been absolutely phenomenal. Colter McAnelly has been able to come in and play really well. He actually leads the team in ERA at 2.49. So, it’s been just an all around collective unit that’s been pretty hard to get past this year. I think that they’ve done a really good job this offseason, making some changes and playing really well.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, I think they don’t really just have a standout player. I mean, they do have some people who are really stepping up, but I think they just have a standout chemistry. Like they work very well together, and you can tell that they’ve practiced a lot and they’ve really been, you know, practicing for the season and trying their best to get better at their positions. And going off that, has there been a player that you think has improved since last season, and that has shown significant improvements in their playing? 

Brooke Hale: Personally, I would say Kai Roberts. He’s really had a great season so far. Again, he just got the program record for the most stolen bases, which is awesome. That’s obviously huge. Stealing bases and helping the team get in a better position to score and he’s just been consistent in the outfield also. I think he’s had a great, great senior year, and it will be exciting to see like the rest of how the season goes for him. But for me, I would say Kai Roberts.

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, Kai has been, been pretty phenomenal this year. It’s been really, really cool to see what he’s been able to do. I mentioned Bryson Van Sickle earlier. He’s been absolutely phenomenal. There’s not enough good things I could say about him, and then just consistency wise, Micah Ashman. You know, last year, he was, he was one of the better pitchers on the roster and this year, he’s doing the same thing. He’s playing really well. He’s leading that team. He’s a little bit older now. He’s kind of got that locker room behind him and, you know, I, when we talked to him, you could just tell he’s got a passion for baseball, he’s got a passion to be great and that’s exactly what he’s doing. He, you know, he works harder than anyone that I’ve met and I just think that you know, having a guy like him in the locker room is, you know, going to be really helpful for these younger, inexperienced guys coming in, like Colter McAnelly who is a freshman out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Like getting the mentorship from Micah and from guys like Bryson and Merit Jones has been absolutely phenomenal, and I’m really excited to kind of see how that unit is able to grow as they get into their sophomore and junior and senior years.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, and also I think someone to mention is Hunter Antillon. He’s the catcher this year and he’s just been doing a great job about keeping the team composed and really being on it. I think the catcher has a lot of responsibility in baseball to kind of you know, keep the team stable and he’s been doing a great job of that and a great job of allowing everyone to have their own space to do their own thing but also, you know, kind of running the show when it comes to plays and covering stolen bases. So, has there been any new players that have stood out to you guys? I know we talked a little bit about players that have improved but what new players have been catching your eye?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, so I just mentioned him not too long ago, but Colter McAnelly has been absolutely phenomenal. He only has nine appearances so far, but in the games he’s played, he’s looked absolutely great. His opponents are averaging .183 when he’s on the mound, which leads the team and you know, he’s just a freshman. So, he’s got a lot of room to improve as a right-handed pitcher, but he has really, really impressed me so far this year. He’s only allowed 17 runs and he’s got a 2.49 ERA, like I said, he leads the team. He’s, you know, he’s getting a lot of swing-and-miss stuff. He’s got 26 strikeouts. His whiff rate is really high. There’s just been a lot of things that you don’t see out of a freshman early on in a season that he’s been able to do. He just looks very mature and composed out on the mound, he doesn’t get flustered, when he kind of makes a mistake, he’s always able to bounce back. He doesn’t really walk guys. He’s only got five walks on the year and I mean, I can’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s been super impressive so far and I think that he’s gonna be a really, really solid player in the future for us.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Great. So as you’re talking about all this and seeing the team play this year, do you think the team can make it to the College World Series this year? 

Brooke Hale: I think so. I think if they’re performing how they’ve been performing, and can get these series wins moving forward, like they’ll get in a great spot to move postseason and get in the Pac-12 tournament good seating. So I think if they can step up and continue to get the wins, especially on the road, it will be huge for the Utes, and I think if they stay healthy, I think they have a good chance for sure.

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, their schedule down the stretch is, I mean, it’s definitely favorable. There’s a lot, obviously a lot of Pac-12 games left, but we’ve played some of the top teams in the Pac-12. So that means that the standings are completely going to shift. I mean, they’re stacked — back end of the season is going to be tough. You know, you have a three-game set against UCLA, then Oregon, then Arizona and those are all three really quality opponents. So, just getting, stringing together wins. I know UCLA struggled this year so you got to get those wins against the more inferior opponents, the ones that are struggling this year, because you got to be able to pounce on them. Last year, it seemed like teams would come in and they would kind of think, “Oh, this is kind of the games to get back on track,” but that’s not this team anymore. We’re the team looking for those games to get us back on track, and I just think that if we were able to string together wins, and like I said earlier on, being able to get those two wins and kind of win those series instead of dropping two out of the three games, that’s when you can kind of start to pick it up and you never know you can make a run in the tournament, and I think that they’re capable of doing that. So, I’m really excited to see what they’re able to do.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, if they keep this performance up, and not just that, but this culture up, I think that they could go really far. I think something important to mention is that they have had a coaching change in the last few years. They went from Coach Bill Kinneberg to Gary Henderson three years ago, and I think that just that cultural adaptation might be why the last few years have been adjusting, but it seems like they really haven’t locked in this year. I mean, Henderson, a key part of his culture is a winning culture that, you know, encompasses concentration, work ethic and positive attitude, and I think you’ll definitely see that on the field and that if they just keep this up and keep this culture and really trust Henderson and his coaching that they’ll be able to get far. Well, great. Thank you guys for your insights. Do you have any final thoughts?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I just had one little thing I noticed. So I know last year Jayden Kiernan was our catcher and I talked a little bit about this with Micah Ashman, about kind of how it’s different when you have a new catcher coming in, how you kind of mesh with each other. And I think that Hunter Antillon this year has been absolutely incredible at the catcher position. He’s a graduate student, and he’s been able to, you know, he plays really well on offense. He’s got a .913 OPS. He’s hitting the ball hard. He’s got four home runs, which is second on the team, and he’s also, he’s meshing really well with those pitchers. I think he’s making these guys a lot more comfortable than they were last year and he’s giving them good signals and he’s helping them just stay composed on the mound, like, you know, it’s really helpful to have a catcher that’s experienced, and that’s just a veteran. And I think that’s been one of the key factors to the success we’ve had so far this year.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Awesome. Well, thank you, Kyle and Brooke, and thank you for listening to Home Stretch, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. Stay tuned for new episodes coming soon.


Transcribed by

Producer: Stevie Shaughnessey —  [email protected]  | @steviechrony

Hosts: Kyle Garrison — [email protected] | @Kylegarr23

Brooke Hale — [email protected]  | @brookehale

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About the Contributors
Stevie Shaughnessey
Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host
Stevie is a junior transfer student at the U who is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and minoring in documentary studies. In her free time, Stevie likes to take part in many different activities, such as dirt bike riding, snowboarding and photography.
Kyle Garrison
Kyle Garrison, Assistant Sports Editor
Kyle garrison grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Kyle plans on pursuing broadcast journalism as a career once graduating from the University of Utah. Kyle started with the Chronicle this fall and has loved every minute of working with the team.
Brooke Hale
Brooke Hale, Home Stretch Host
Brooke Hale joined the Daily Utah Chronicle’s Sports Desk Podcast as a producer in the spring of 2024. She is studying Communications at the University of Utah. She recently completed her D1 soccer career at the U. She grew up in Danville, California. In her free time, she loves watching all sports, being outdoors, working out and traveling.

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