By Kim Hartman
Despite two homeruns, Arizona dropped their series opener against the University of Utah on Thursday night, by a score of 12-5.
“You have to tip your hat to Utah,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “They are a conference champion, until someone knocks them off. It’s a testament to how good our league is.”
The Utes combined for 18 hits. Dallas Carroll, Hunter Simmons and Dominic Foscalina had three-hit nights, and DaShawn Keirsey Jr. went 4-for-6 with two RBIs at the plate. Utah scored in every inning, except the first and the ninth. The six Wildcats pitchers who were used on Thursday issued nine walks in the contest.
“We didn’t get a very good pitching performance tonight by anybody,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t even say it was a bad game, but we didn’t pitch great, and Utah is a good enough team to take advantage of that.”
In the top of the first, Utah threatened by getting runners at the corners with two away. But Wade Gulden struck out looking to end the side.
In Arizona’s first turn at the plate, Alfonso Rivas homered on a 0-2 count to right field. The solo shot gave the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead.
Utah answered in the next frame. Two walks and a RBI single through the right side by Keirsey tied the game, 1-1.
With runners at first and third for the second straight inning, Oliver Dunn walked to load the bases with two outs. After distributing three walks in one frame, Arizona starter Randy Labaut was pulled for Seve Romo.
The right-hander got ahead of Carroll in the count, 0-2, before inducing a flyout to get out of the jam and leave the sacks packed.
Through two innings, the match remained even.
The Utes opened the third frame with a double to left field by Simmons. Gulden drew a base-on-balls on four consecutive pitches, and a sacrifice fly moved both runners up. With one man gone, Romo intentionally walked Josh Rose to setup a potential double play at any base.
Once again, Romo found himself pitching with the bases loaded. This time, by his own doing.
After Romo struck out Foscalina, Utah’s Ellis Kelly dribbled a two-run single up the middle to give the Utes a 3-1 lead.
In the bottom half, Cal Stevenson closed the gap with a homerun to right field with the bases empty.
With one out, Jared Oliva hit a double into right-centerfield, and Morimoto drew a walk on a payoff pitch. But the Wildcats couldn’t push a run across, as the third frame came to a close.
Landon Faulkner relieved Romo at the top of the fourth.
A bunt single and wild pitch was followed by a RBI single up the middle by Simmons, giving Utah an insurance run. Arizona put together a pair of singles, during their turn at-bat, but they couldn’t capitalize and went scoreless in the fourth.
At the end of four innings of play, the Utes had a 4-2 winning margin.
In the top of the fifth, Utah manufactured two more runs on a bouncing single by Carroll down the first base line that scooted just under the glove of J.J. Matijevic. The Utes third baseman was credited with one RBI on the hit, as the second run scored on a throwing error. A Keirsey standup double and a walk by Dunn set the table for the runs.
In the middle of five, Utah was up, 6-2.
During the bottom of the fifth, Matijevic sent a double into right field on the second pitch of the at-bat. A Carroll error scored him, to cut the lead in half. Trying to chip away at their deficit, Arizona got one more on a fielder’s choice, which was a nearly completed double play.
After five, the Utes held a narrow 6-4 lead.
In the top of the sixth, Utah starter Jayson Rose was relieved by Jacob Rebar. Rose’s night ended with a line of 5 innings on 4 runs (2 earned), 6 hits, 3 walks and 2 strikeouts.
The Utes ran away with the game, in the next three innings. Utah tacked on two runs in each the sixth, seventh and eighth, as they pulled away from the Wildcats. Their offensive drift included a two-run homerun by Gulden in the seventh.
In the ninth, the Utes posted a zero for the first time on offense since the first inning. They did, however, load the bases.
Despite a Morimoto single, in the bottom of the ninth, the Wildcats could not generate anything at the plate and dropped the series opener to the Utes, 12-5.
“We didn’t get off to a good tempo tonight,” Johnson said. “I mean, it’s a good lineup, and it seemed like their best hitters were always coming up with runners on base. We had a hard time getting that third out and finishing the inning.”
Arizona looks to bounce back on Friday night in the second of a three-game set against Utah. Gametime is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow’s game,” Johnson said. “We certainly don’t want to sit on this one for awhile. I have a lot of respect for those football coaches, because they have to wait a week after a tough one. We don’t.”