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Pac-12 baseball: Surging Utah beats USC 6-5 on walk-off home run

Published May 15, 2017 10:30 pm

Pac-12 baseball • Utah tops USC 6-5 on Gulden's 2-run shot.
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Foul. Foul. Foul.

Wade Gulden only needed to swing a pitch 45 degrees to his left and he would be in business.

It was on the 11th pitch of his final at-bat, after spraying baseballs to his side and behind him, that Utah's junior left fielder finally hammered a pitch high toward right-center field. And while USC's own outfielders jogged in the direction of the moonshot, they could only watch as it sailed over the fence at Smith's Ballpark.

A two-run walk-off home run.

"He's got a live fastball — he was painting corners — and I was just trying to get my pitch," said Gulden, who was 3 for 4 on the night. "I was trying to just have a good team at-bat there."

It was an appropriate finish to a 6-5 win for Utah baseball (24-21, 12-12), and an appropriate cap to a series sweep against the Trojans that featured two unlikely victories achieved in stunning fashion. Showing grit in another trying moment, the Utes hope they can pull off another stunner with a run to end Pac-12 play and make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year — this time as an at-large.

With two Pac-12 series remaining, it'll take a monumental effort this weekend at UCLA and finally at home against Arizona State. But judging from the raucous shouting from Utah's locker room on Monday night and the accompanying thump of techno music, the team is feeling the groove right now.

"I'll take wins anytime, no matter how it goes," coach Bill Kinneberg said. "Great comeback win yesterday. It shows me a little grit and determination."

Utah came into the bottom of the ninth desperate, not having scored a run in the previous five innings after a cracking start at the plate. While the Utes notched 11 hits in the game — including a second-inning Josh Rose homer— relievers Solomon Bates and Connor Lunn had all but shut down the scoring.

Dallas Carroll got the rally started with a leadoff single, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Zack Moeller struck out, it was do-or-die time with Gulden at the plate with two outs.

Gulden had doubled twice earlier in the day, so he thought if he could just stay alive, he could rip another ball deep. Even after the count was full, he kept fouling off, waiting for one down the middle. When he finally got his pitch, he didn't have to watch it.

Game over.

"I knew I got it," he said. "I'm not one to celebrate too much, but that was cool."

Adding to Utah's reasons to celebrate was the return of lefty hurler Dylan Drachler, who replaced starter Josh Lapiana in the fifth and pitched four scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks. Along with a closing effort by Tanner Thomas (who earned the win), Utah's bullpen was able to keep USC's lineup off-balance and scoreless for the last five innings.

Drachler hadn't pitched since suffering a back injury last month, but looked and felt fresh.

"I'm just glad I could throw up some zeros and keep us in the game," he said. "I was kind of envisioning throwing an inning or maybe two, but my back felt pretty good, so it was good to have four innings."

Now tied for fourth in the Pac-12, Utah will next head to Westwood to take on the Bruins in a three-game series starting on Friday.

kgoon@sltrib.com Twitter: @kylegoon —


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