After suffering a 7-5 loss to visiting Fresno State University Bulldogs (25-21, 13-10) of the Mountain West Conference on Wednesday, May 2, the UC Riverside baseball team (18-25, 4-11) took two games in a three-game nonconference series from Thursday, May 4 to Saturday, May 6 in Salt Lake City against the University of Utah Utes of the Pacific 12 Conference (20-21, 9-12).
In the first game, the Highlanders had a difficult time keeping the Bulldogs, led by first baseman Aaron Arruda, inside the ballpark. Arruda had two of Fresno State’s three home runs on the night, accounting for four of the Bulldogs’ seven runs. The Highlanders had a decent offensive performance themselves led by left fielder AJ Sawyer’s three hits and two runs scored.
The first inning set the tone for the game, starting off with Arruda’s two-run home run in the top part of the inning. The Highlanders would respond with a run of their own after an AJ Sawyer triple was capitalized on by a sacrifice fly from designated hitter Connor Cannon. Things quieted down for the next few innings as only one player reached base in the second and third innings. The Bulldogs would be reignited in the fourth, picking up another run on a flurry of hard hit balls including a double that was inches away from leaving the park. They followed that with another pair of runs in the fifth before UCR’s offense showed some life again. Consecutive doubles to lead off the inning by second baseman Cody Sporrer and catcher Tony Gudino put another run on the board for the Highlanders. One more run was scored by the Highlanders in the next inning with a chance to tie, but Fresno State was able to escape the inning stranding two Highlanders on base.
The Bulldogs continued to keep UCR at arms length, scoring another run in the top of the seventh on a homer by Bulldogs catcher Carter Bins. The Highlanders were able to put runners on second and third with no outs in their half of the inning, but a misread wild pitch lead to another squandered opportunity. They were able to make up for it somewhat by scoring in the eighth to make it 6-4, but stranded two men on base in that inning as well. The Bulldogs added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, and UCR just couldn’t muster up enough offense in the bottom half to threaten, only picking up one ninth inning run to reach the final 7-5 total.
The series with Utah was chock full of big innings and streaks of offensive runs. Each team had a streak of five or more unanswered runs in the series along with a multitude of innings with three or more runs. UCR had four different innings this series in which they scored three runs, and 75 percent of the Highlanders’ total runs came from these innings (12 of 16). Utah had its share of multi-run innings as well, including a five-run frame in the first game.
That first huge inning for Utah took place in the third inning of the opening game of the series, and was part of a streak of six unanswered runs in a 7-3 UCR loss. The Highlanders were kept under control for six innings by Utes’ starter Jayson Rose, but were finally able to get to him in the seventh. The Highlanders forced Rose out of the game with two outs in the seventh after hanging three runs on him in that inning, but reliever Tanner Thomas came in for Rose and shut down the Highlanders over the last 2.1 innings to secure the Utah victory.
The Highlanders were victorious in the second game, 6-2, headlined by a strong combination of offensive and pitching firepower. Just as in the first game, the second game was marked by another big inning. This time, it was the Highlanders’ three-run second that was the story of the day. Four of the first five batters of the inning reached for the Highlanders which was capped off by a Gudino double that drove in two of the three game’s runs. On the other hand, Utah’s offense was pacified in this game, as Highlander pitcher Ryan Lillie wove seven innings of one run ball, notching 10 strikeouts while only allowing three hits and walking one.
The third game was arguably the most exciting, as the Highlanders came back from a 5-0 deficit at the end of the third to pick up a 7-5 victory. The Utes’ offense was gelling over the first three innings, scoring two runs in the first and three runs in the third to jump out to a big lead. The Highlanders started their comeback with a three-run fourth inning, all with hits into left field. UCR reliever Richard Delgado, who entered the game with two outs in the third, reeled the Utes’ offense back in and only allowed three hits over 4.2 innings. The Highlanders were able to bring in another run in the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-4, which remained unchanged until the Highlanders’ half of the ninth. After a leadoff walk, shortstop Colby Schultz singled to put two men on, setting up a Sawyer sacrifice bunt. That sacrifice forced the Utes to intentionally walk the next batter to attempt to set up the double play, to no avail. Yeager Taylor, who was pinch hitting for third baseman Michael Farris, hit a single to right field which drove two runs and gave the Highlanders a 6-5 lead. The Highlanders were able to pick up one more run and UCR reliever Jared Morton shut the Utes down in the ninth, his second inning of work on the night.
The Highlanders host Loyola Marymount University in a nonconference matchup on Monday, May 8 before traveling up north for a three-game series with UC Davis from Friday, May 12 to Sunday, May 14.