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Utah baseball: After winning Pac-12 title, Utes out to prove it wasn't a fluke

Published February 16, 2017 11:37 pm

Utah baseball • Even as core players return, they are predicted to finish sixth in the league.
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After four straight last-place finishes, the Utah baseball team last year captured the program's first Pac-12 championship since joining the conference, and earned its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.

It was a fairy-tale season, by any measure. The Utes' motivation in 2017 is to prove it wasn't an aberration.

Utah, picked sixth out of 11 teams in this year's Pac-12 preseason coaches' poll, opens the season Friday (7 p.m.) at Cal State Bakersfield, the first of a three-game series.

"For me and everyone who has been around the program when weren't having success, I mean, it meant the world to us," senior third baseman Dallas Carroll said of last season. "We knew that we could compete and that we were in games until late and we were losing a lot of one-run ballgames. For it to finally switch like it did last year and have those games go in our favor, that just showed that our expectation of winning was warranted."

A three-year starter at third base, Carroll batted .294 and led the Utes with seven home runs. A resident of Taylorsville who the scouting service Perfect Game ranked at No. 32 among the top 50 college seniors, Carroll is one of three returning all-conference players for the Utes, along with junior starting pitcher Jayson Rose and sophomore center fielder Dashawn Keirsey.

"I know that's a lot of the talk, even after last year it was, 'Oh, it was a fluke. That was a down year in the Pac-12.' That's the only reason we were able to accomplish what we accomplished," Carroll said. "I think the team has done a good job to stay within [ourselves]. You're always going to have those people out there that say it was a fluke or things like that. I think we've done a great job to not put pressure on ourselves to go out there and repeat rather than just go out there and do what we know we're capable of doing."

The Utes must replace several key players from last season, including last year's starting middle infield of second baseman Kody Davis and shortstop Cody Scaggari, as well as pitcher Dalton Carroll, who was a draft pick of the Atlanta Braves.

Jayson Rose, the ace of the pitching staff, went 8-5 in 16 starts and set a program record for strikeouts last season (106). He seems to have embraced the idea of everyone in the Pac-12 being excited to knock the Utes off the pedestal they reached last year.

"That should make it more fun, more competitive," he said. "I mean, if they have a target on our back, we're going to get their best guys, their best at-bats of the day. I take it more of a bulldog fight in the end, so I think it would be more competitive and probably more fun of a game."

Rose was named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list earlier this week. Rose also garnered preseason All-American honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and Perfect Game ranked him 44th on its list of the top 100 college juniors.

Closer Dylan Drachler earned a spot on the preseason Stopper of the Year Award watch list. Drachler recorded nine saves last season and registered a 2.92 ERA. He struck out 45 batters in 37 innings and allowed 28 hits.

Utah coach Bill Kinneberg, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year last season, believes this year's pitching staff gives his team a leg up compared to last season.

"We have more weapons to go to," Kinneberg said. "[Riley] Ottesen and Rose have been spectacular to this point, and [Josh] Lapiana is a proven winner for us, so our starting rotation looks very strong. Drachler is back to close out games. We've got some middle guys that we feel are better. We really hope that our pitching staff is better. We feel that is something that hurt us, particularly the fourth game of a week or if we got behind early and went to our bullpen."


Twitter: @LWorthySports






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