The Wolverine baseball team kicked off the 2019 campaign with a four-game series against the Fresno State Bulldogs. Hoping to get out of Utah and play ball in some nice weather, UVU tabbed senior ace Jake Carr to be the starter for opening day. He would end up waiting a full day to take the mound as Friday night’s contest was postponed due to weather.
Saturday, however, the skies cleared and the rain ceased at Bob Bennett Stadium and the season began. The Wolverines found themselves in a hole early, though. Fresno State came out of the gates and knocked in three runs in the first inning, capitalizing on some miscues by the UVU defense.
Utah Valley would respond in the third inning with some runs of their own. Senior Kody Hall started off the inning with a bunt single, getting on base with nobody out, followed by a double from senior infielder Trevor Howell. UVU was knocking on the door with two men on and still nobody out. Senior Michael Beltran finally put the Wolverines on the board with an RBI groundout to short, also advancing Howell to third. A walk followed, and then a wild pitch from FSU. allowed the second run to cross the plate.
The score remained 3-2 until the bottom of the fourth, which started a streak of three consecutive innings with a run scored for the Bulldogs, extending their lead to 6-2. UVU added one more in the seventh to make it 6-3.
The game headed to the ninth inning with the same score, but the Wolverines were not done yet. After loading the bases with two outs, Utah Valley brought the go-ahead run to plate in the form of sophomore Drew Sims. Fresno State pitcher, sophomore Jamison Hill, however, managed to draw a popup off the bat of Sims to end the ballgame.
“It was nice to be able to get the season underway after being rained out on Friday,” head UVU coach Eric Madsen said. “I felt like our guys competed and kept giving us a chance. It would have been great for them to win. We have some things to improve on and I look forward to seeing how we do the rest of the weekend.”
Another day of rain would push the series finale to Monday, forcing a double header to make up for it. UVU started off the first game with a bang. Early in the second inning, the Wolverines jumped out to a two-run lead thanks to a big fly from junior transfer Marco Alexander, his first homer in the green and white. Junior Jake Berry had drawn a walk, and scored the go-ahead run on the home run.
FSU responded with three runs of their own in the third inning to take the one-run lead, but UVU countered with a run in the fifth thanks to the first collegiate hit off the bat of freshman Mick Madsen. Beltran came around to score on a ground ball single to left.
Then, amidst the rainy weekend forecast, the drought hit. UVU starter junior Paxton Schultz clamped down on the Bulldog hitters and would not allow a run the rest of the game. He racked up seven strikeouts on the day while surrendering three runs on six hits.
The game remained tied into the last inning, when Sims came to the plate with hopes of breaking the tie. With two outs and nobody on, the sophomore catcher blasted the first pitch he saw over the fence in left center field to give UVU its first lead of the game. Right-handed reliever junior Jesse Schmit then came on to pitch the last of the ninth for the Wolverines and promptly mowed down the side in order to record his first save in a UVU uniform, and give the boys in green their first win of the season.
In the second game, UVU fell behind early, but was able to tie things up in the sixth inning by way of an RBI double, a wild pitch, and an RBI single. One inning later, the Bulldogs tacked on a run to take back the lead 4-3.
Fresno State then tacked on four insurance runs in the last of the eighth to make it 8-3. The Bulldogs’ first run of the frame came home on a double steal, while the second run came in on a UVU throwing error. The Bulldogs then made it 8-3 with a two-out, two-run home run off the bat of senior Nolan Dempsey to put the game away.
Senior starter Walked Ramsey (0-1) pitched well for UVU in the contest but ended up taking the loss after allowing four runs on six hits while striking out five in 6.1 innings of work. Fresno State’s redshirt freshman Kevin Larson (1-0) was credited with the win in relief after pitching a scoreless seventh inning.
Up next for the Wolverines will be a weekend showdown with SEC powerhouse University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks are perennial contenders for the National Championship, having won two titles in the past nine years. The three-game series opens up on Feb. 22 in Columbia, S.C.
Photo courtesy of UVU Athletics/Clark Clifford