BYU held off a furious, ninth inning two-out rally by the Utah Utes to take home the baseball Deseret Duel trophy Tuesday night.
The two teams traded jabs from start to finish in a game that had four lead changes. A crowded and energetic Miller Park provided an electric atmosphere typical of a BYU/Utah rivalry game.
“We just plug away and keep going,” head coach Mike Littlewood said.
The Utes scored the first run of the game in the second when Bret Helton doubled to left and later scored on a throwing error by BYU shortstop Hayden Nielsen.
BYU fought back and took the lead in the third when Dakota Hernandez scored on a Jacob Hannemann single. Hannemann later scored on a single by Brennon Anderson to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.
The Utes didn’t wait long to respond as they scored two runs in the top of the fourth to take a 3-2 lead. Wyler Smith singled home Konnor Armijo and Cody Scaggari singled home Biss Larsen, both with two outs.
The Utes extended their lead in the top of the sixth. The Utes had runners on second and third with no outs when Cody Scaggari singled home Brett Helton. Biss Larsen was then thrown out at home by starting pitcher Adam Miller when Braden Anderson laid down a suicide squeeze attempt.
Miller was replaced by Derek Speigner with two outs in the top of the sixth. Speigner got Cory Hunt to pop out to end the inning and the threat.
The Cougars struck back in the bottom half as Jaycob Brugman led off with a double. The Utes brought in Joe Pond to relieve starter Chase Rezac. Kelton Caldwell singled home Brugman bringing the Cougars within 4-3. After a Hernandez single, Hayden Nielsen was hit by a pitch to load the bases with Hannemann coming to the plate.
The Utes brought in leftie Nick Green to face Hannemann. Hannemann worked to a full count before walking, forcing home the tying run. Brennon Anderson struck out looking to end the threat with the score tied at 4-4.
The Utes immediately jumped on the Cougars in the eighth, as Tyler Relf started off the inning with a liner into the left center field gap which Hannemann initially misplayed. He recovered just in time and threw Relf out trying to take second. Speigner struck out Trey Nielsen and Konnor Armijo to end the inning.
In the eighth, Speigner walked Bret Helton and hit pinch hitter Tyler Yagi. Helton was thrown out at third by Brock Whitney on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Wyler Smith. Matt Milke came in for relief and struck out Scaggari and Braden Anderson flew out to left to end the Ute threat.
The Cougars took the lead in the bottom of the eighth as Caldwell led off with a double down the left field line. He advanced to third on Bret Lopez’s sacrifice fly deep to right. The Utes brought in Luke West in relief who walked Hernandez. Hayden Nielsen hit a grounder to short and beat out a close double play at first, scoring Caldwell and giving the Cougars a 5-4 lead.
Hannamen kept the inning alive with a single to left. The inning ended on a close play at home when Nielsen tried to score from second on a single to right by Anderson, but was tagged out by Armijo.
Milke struck out Cory Hunt and got Relf to ground out for the second out. With two outs, no runners on and two strikes on Nielsen, it looked like the Cougars had wrapped up another victory. Neilsen then ripped a liner down the left field line for a double, followed by walks by Eppard and Helton to load the bases.
At that point, Milke had given up a double and two walks in the last three batters, but Littlewood elected to leave him in to face Bennett. Milke worked Bennett to a 1-2 count, Milke’s fastball on the outside corner was called strike three, giving BYU the victory.
The Cougars host Saint Mary’s this weekend in a do or die series for the conference tournament. Winning the series would give the Cougars a spot in the WCC tournament.