As junior catcher Court Zollinger squeezed the ball in his mitt, the umpire signaled strike three, and the Wolverines achieved a win against a top-ten team for the second time in as many years.
UVU junior closer Brian Whatcott recorded two groundouts in the ninth inning after entering the game with a runner on and no outs. He walked the next batter to bring the tying run to the plate but ended the game with a strikeout for his second save of the season. Whatcott’s scoreless inning of relief added to an outstanding night of pitching for the Wolverines.
Junior pitcher Andrew Freter started the game and pitched 5.1 strong innings, allowing one unearned run before giving way to senior reliever Jeff Barto who also stifled Arizona batters, combining with Freter to scatter five hits over eight plus innings.
“I’m proud of the way we battled tonight. We gave them opportunities but our pitchers did a great job of making big pitches when they needed to,” said Head Coach Eric Madsen. “This is a nice early-season win for us against a great program. Coach (Andy) Lopez is one of the best there is in college baseball and we appreciate the opportunity to compete against his club.”
The win against defending national champion Arizona was UVU’s third in four games and comes on the heels of a three-game set in Oregon against the University of Portland. The Wolverines won 7-6 in 10 innings in game one and 3-1 in the second game, before falling 7-3 in the finale. The Wolverines held a 3-2 advantage entering the bottom of the seventh inning during the finale before they surrendered five runs and the lead. However the trip has already restored UVU’s
record to .500, with UVU playing once more at the University of Arizona before traveling west.
Despite the recent success, the season did not begin as planned. The Wolverines dropped three of four in the Palm Springs Tournament to begin the season. UVU split two games with Gonzaga, winning their opener 6-2 before ending the tournament with a 6-4 loss. The Wolverines also lost to No. 6 Oregon State and UC Riverside.
“It’s certainly disappointing to come here and finish the way we did after starting with a win,” Madsen said. “I’m happy with the way we tried to fight back today
but the key is to avoid putting ourselves in that position. We have a lot to work on. This was a good weekend for us to gauge some things but definitely not the result we want or expect.”
Expectations remain high for the Wolverines, coming off a season with the highest win percentage in the nation. UVU was picked once again as the preseason favorites to win the Great West Conference, a feat they have not failed to accomplish in the three years of its existence. It has become a presumption rather than an expectation, and the true goal of the Wolverines now is to be selected to participate in the NCAA tournament.
By Kyle Spencer