Numbers never lie. Going into the Great West Conference tournament, Utah Valley University had not lost in conference play all season long, posting a 24-0 record against the likes of Texas-Pan American, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Northern Colorado. But it was the two victories against Houston Baptist in the tournament that sealed the third Great West championship for the Wolverines in as many years.
UVU, ranked number one in the tournament, started off playing against eighth seeded New York Institute of Technology who came into the game only winning five games during the regular season. With a closer matchup than some expected, the Wolverines were able to out-slug the Bears of NYIT, winning 17-10. Starting catcher Alex Exon pushed across four runs on four hits and six plate appearances. Jake Rickenbach batted in three runs to help UVU win their fifth in a row. Relief pitcher Ryan Chadwick picked up his sixth win of the season after throwing 65 pitches and allowing only one run in 5.1 innings.
The first victory for UVU during this tournament came on May 23 when UVU rallied in the ninth to walk-off on Houston Baptist. In a series of odd events, The Wolverines were able to get men on base on a leadoff walk, followed by a bloop single from Rickenbach. The.540 slugger then had a balk that advanced runners in the bottom of the ninth. That set up for a sacrifice fly by Sean Moysh, which scored the tying run. Billy Burgess came up to bat, already with two RBIs, and hit a slow chopper to third.
Third baseman Curtis Jones tried charging to get him out at first for the final out of the inning, but it got away from him that allowed Rickenbach to score from second and helped UVU advance to Game 11 of the tournament. The 6-1 win marked the second time UVU had a walk-off victory this season and only the seventh time a game was decided by one run for the Wolverines.
After handling North Dakota 15-4 in Game 11, UVU moved on to the championship game, meeting up with Houston Baptist again, winners of the loser’s bracket. A day that started out overcast with heavy showers ended sunny for the weather as well as UVU. They were able to defeat Houston Baptist again in the same week, sealing their three-peat of the Great West Conference championship and finishing their season 47-12, making it their best season-ending record in school history.
First baseman Goose Kallunki led the Wolverines this season in conference play. The senior hit an unbelievable .990 and hit 12 of his 18 homeruns against the Great West teams.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year,” Kallunki said. “The guys I played with and being able to put up some of the numbers that I did was just too much. I wasn’t expecting any of this, but it was just kind of unbelievable.”
As noted earlier, numbers never lie. UVU ended their conference play 28-0, having a team batting average of .394, and hitting 32 homeruns along with 265 RBI’s. Their conference rivals had only 96. Final number to note is that during their nationally recognized 32-game winning streak, 24 of those wins were against their own conference.
Although UVU did not get a playoff berth in the NCAA, they did win UVU a title for the third straight year and had a memorable 32-game winning streak that brought recognition to the university on a more national scale.
“This season we have received way more national coverage then ever before, and we are getting our name out there,” Kallunki said.
By ALEX RIVERA