Fall Report: UtahFall Report
Utah’s surprising run to its first Pac-12 title was one of the biggest college baseball stories of 2016. The Utes came out of nowhere and overcame a rough first month to go 19-11 in conference play, winning the league by two games (even though they finished 26-29 overall). The conference title came with an automatic bid that sent Utah to regionals for the first time since 2009, and just the second time since 1960.
As last season progressed, the Utes began to believe in themselves, even if it took the rest of us longer to catch on. By the end of the year, they knew they were good, and they proved it yet again by knocking off top-seeded Ole Miss in the Oxford Regional opener. Now, Utah’s returning players don’t have to prove anything to themselves or anybody else. It’s amazing how winning can transform the culture of a program.
“It surprised everybody, and it surprised everybody here,” Utah coach Bill Kinneberg said. “We weren’t the most talented team on paper in our league, everybody knows that. It took some special things to happen to do what we did … And we’ve got a lot of those guys back. So it’s a little different attitude around here, I think. Last year’s confidence, I guess is the word that I like to use, is really evident with these guys, I think. They got a taste of winning and what it’s like, so we had a really good fall, I thought.”
That confidence starts on Friday nights. Utah knows it has a great chance to win the first game of every series behind ace Jayson Rose (8-5, 2.89), a fierce competitor whose energy fuels his teammates. The junior righthander has some of the best stuff in the Pac-12, with a low-90s fastball that regularly bumps 93 and one of college baseball’s best changeups, a dastardly 81-83 mph offering that he can throw against righties and lefties alike.
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