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After all his University of Utah baseball players accomplished this season, coach Bill Kinneberg was left wishing for a re-enactment.
The celebration on the mound that followed the Utes' 21-7 victory over Washington for the outright Pac-12 championship occurred too quickly for their coach to witness any of it, amid all of the hugs from his staff members. Kinneberg will have to rely on televised replays of a moment that will live in Utah's athletic department history.
And it had to happen, just for the Utes to keep playing this week.
More baseball is in their future, via the NCAA bid that accompanies the conference title. With a loss Sunday at Smith's Ballpark, the Utes would have shared the championship, but could not have advanced with their losing record. Thanks to Utah's 19-11 mark in Pac-12 play, being 25-27 overall is sufficient.
"Our players are good," Kinneberg said. "It's surprised me at times, how good we were."
So the Utes wore championship caps and T-shirts while posing for photos with other boxes, designated for the second-place Huskies, going unopened. Ute athletic director Chris Hill presented the team a Pac-12 trophy that he hardly ever could have imagined holding, as the baseball team earned Utah's first championship in a sport other than women's gymnastics after five years of league membership.
The entire conference may need another 100 years of competition in a couple of dozen sports to top this stuff. This was one time when the standard-issue Drake lyrics ("Started from the bottom ...") played over the loudspeakers to commend a title-winning performance genuinely applied. The Utes finished last in the 11-team baseball standings in each of the previous four seasons, before somehow rising to the top.
"It hasn't been an easy five years for us, but that's what makes it even more fun right now," said second baseman Kody Davis, a senior from Juan Diego Catholic High School.
Merely climbing into the middle tier of this conference would have been an achievement for Utah's baseball program if it ever happened. The teams occupying the middle of this year's standings identify as baseball schools, including Stanford, USC and Oregon State.
Utah beat them all, after beginning the season with what now seems like a modest goal of finishing in the top six and earning an NCAA bid. As everything played out, though, the Utes had to win an outright championship just to qualify for postseason play, with their 6-16 nonconference record.
And that required Utah's winning the last two games vs. Washington (32-21, 17-13) after absorbing a 5-4 loss in Friday's series opener. The Utes rallied with seven runs in the seventh inning of Saturday's 12-8 victory, then they started scoring Sunday and never stopped. They produced four five-run innings the first, the third, the seventh and the eighth. The Utes were resourceful throughout the lineup, with the No. 7 (Josh Rose), No. 8 (AJ Young) and No. 9 (Davis) batters combining to drive in 10 runs.
Josh Lapiana took advantage of the support, pitching into the eighth inning and never giving the Huskies any hope of a comeback.
In the end, Utah observed the occasion with "hugs and tears flyin' everywhere," by Davis' account, and Kinneberg crediting the Pac-12's level of competition for making the Utes raise their game. That standard only validates what the Utes have done. They've risen above a bunch of proud programs that will follow them into the NCAA Tournament, without a trophy to show for their own seasons.
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