SALT LAKE CITY — Utah was held to just three hits on the day, entirely in the seventh inning, but all were crucial in a 2-1 comeback victory over No. 2 Oregon State on Friday afternoon at Smith's Ballpark.
The series-opening win for Utah (25-15-1, 10-9 Pac-12) is the highest ranked triumph for the ball club since 2018, when the Utes took two of three from Oregon State, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.
The Utes have won eight of their last 10 games, five straight at Smith's Ballpark and five of their last six in Pac-12 Conference play. Three of the five league wins in that span have come versus top-20 ranked clubs.
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Utah and the Beavers will rematch in the middle game of the series on Saturday, April 30, with first pitch again slated for 11 a.m. MT at Smith's Ballpark.
Right fielder Kai Roberts, second baseman Landon Frei and designated hitter Jayden Kiernan each had hits in the rally, including a game-tying RBI double for Frei. Kiernan singled three batters later to score Frei with the eventual game-winning run.
BIG. TIME. HIT.@JaydenKiernan comes up clutch with a two-out RBI single to take the lead for Utah, 2-1.— Utah Baseball (@utahbaseball) April 29, 2022
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Both starting pitchers were incredible to watch. Utah's Matthew Sox picked up the win (4-2) on a seven-inning effort with just a run allowed on six hits and a walk, striking out two Beavers on the day. For Oregon State, Cooper Hjerpe (8-1) was perfect through six innings before Roberts led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to center field.
Zac McCleve came on for Utah midway through the eighth inning and closed out his fourth save of the season.
The game moved right along for the first five innings, then in the sixth Oregon State broke the ice. Justin Boyd clubbed a leadoff triple off the base of the wall in right-center field, then two pitches later scored on a sacrifice fly from Garret Forrester to put the Beavers on the board.
Looking to answer in the bottom half, Utah was retired in order as Hjerpe remained perfect, but the tables turned the Utes' way after seventh inning stretch. Roberts sent a payoff pitch to center field that dropped in to begin the inning and give Utah its first baserunner of the day. Frei then won a seven-pitch at bat with a hard-hit ball down the third base line and into the left field corner. Roberts hustled all the way from first base and slid head-first into home plate with the tying run, all while Frei cruised into second base with a double.
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Hjerpe and the Beavers battled back inducing a line-out and strikeout, but then on the first pitch Kiernan placed a single into left-center that scored Frei from second base for the 2-1 lead.
While momentum had swung the Utes' way, Oregon State continued to fight and was on the verge of tying the score or taking the lead in the eighth. After two walks and an error, the Beavers had the bases loaded with nobody out. McCleve then worked a ground ball back to the mound, went home for the force out before catcher Davis Cop fired to first baseman Alex Baeza for the 1-2-3 double play.
With two outs but still runners in scoring position, McCleve got the next batter to hit a grounder to the right side, which shortstop Matt Richardson came across to track down and dish to Baeza for the inning-ending putout. In the top of the ninth, two fly outs to left fielder TJ Clarkson were followed by a fly ball to center field, which Dakota Duffalo read and made a nice sliding catch to secure the victory for Utah. Hjerpe exited after the seventh inning for Oregon State, finishing with a line of two runs on three hits against nine strikeouts.