This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Storm clouds gathered over Smith's Ballpark on Sunday afternoon, as if the sky itself was threatening to fall.
After all, the Utes were only a few outs away from winning their first-ever outright Pac-12 baseball championship anything was possible.
The clouds gave way to sunshine by the game's end, but the improbable still unfolded: The Utes hammered the visiting Washington Huskies, 21-7, to clinch the series, the conference title, and an NCAA regionals bid.
With the final groundout in the ninth, the team nobody would've ever guessed could win the league before March stormed senior Nolan Stouder on the mound, their bodies mashing into a chaotic hurricane of hugs and tears.
They whooped. They laughed. They chanted, "Started from the bottom now we here!" The electric blue Pac-12 trophy jumped from hand to hand, as they took turns kissing it.
Before this season, the Utes (25-27, 19-11) had known only the basement of the Pac-12, finishing in last place for four straight years. Sunday, they became its champions.
"I mean, come on that doesn't happen in a conference like this," starting pitcher Josh Lapiana said with a grin, his championship T-shirt soaked by the contents of a water cooler. "It's just awesome."
Playing in front of an unprecedented crowd of 6,071 enthusiastic fans, the Utes left no doubt of their dominance.
Utah took charge quickly, hammering Washington starter Ryan Schmitten out of the game in the first inning, then proceeding to bully seven more Huskies hurlers with four innings in which they scored five runs each.
After a pair of leadoff singles in the first, freshman outfielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr. waltzed home on a wild pitch for Utah's opening run. Schmitten gave up a walk and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases for Josh Rose, who skied a long drive off the top of the right field wall just a foot shy of his second homer in as many games to bat in three runs.
AJ Young singled in Rose on the next at-bat for a 5-0 Utah lead, and the Huskies pulled Schmitten after he had surrendered four hits and five earned runs.
It would be most of what they needed, but the Utes took no chances: With a five-run rally in the third, and another five runs in the seventh, and a comically overpowering five runs in the eighth, the Pac-12 title was locked up long before the final out.
Standouts? Too many to list in one breath. Keirsey was 4 for 5 and three RBIs, leading six Utes with multi-hit games. Rose had a team-high four RBIs. The Huskies themselves were generous, giving up 11 walks, hitting four batters and notching an error to keep rallies rolling.
No Washington pitcher lasted three innings, and only two of the eight Greg Minier and Lance Berringer didn't give up an earned run.
Seniors Cody Scaggari, Kody Davis and Young each had multiple hits in their curtain call at Smith's Ballpark a fitting salute to their early years spent toiling in the cellar of the league.
"They went through the downs of getting through this league, and the grind, and how hard it was," coach Bill Kinneberg said. "They made a commitment, and it really showed."
A lot of credit also went to Utah's man on the mound, left-handed Lapiana. The sophomore transfer from Akron pitched a solid seven innings with only two runs allowed, before the eighth when he gave up three more. He jogged off the field to a standing applause the crowd satisfied with the 16 runs Utah already had on the board.
The Utes improved to 9-1 in the third game of Pac-12 series, a tribute to their closing ability. It was an easy finish considering the Utes had entered the second game after a loss, needing to win two to keep their season going.
Now, it continues. Utah earned a postseason bid for the first time since 2009 and only the second time since 1960. And the way this magical trip has gone, who's to say there isn't plenty of season left?
"Hey, here we come," Scaggari said. "I wasn't losing hope. I had faith in what we could do. And we turned it around, and we did it."
R Utah beats Washington 21-7 to clinch the outright Pac-12 title and an NCAA bid.
• The Utes clinch first NCAA regionals bid since 2009, and only second since 1960.
• Sophomore Josh Lapiana gets five strikeouts in his fourth win of season.
• Freshman DaShawn Keirsey goes 4 for 5, leading six Utes with two or more hits.