(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team mates mob Utah’s Zach Moeller, #28, after his grand slam reduced ASU’s lead to 7-6 in the third inning, Sunday, May 28, 2017.
The result clinched the series sweep against the Sun Devils, a 15-15 Pac-12 record and fifth-place finish in the regular season, and gave Utah a win in its final game at Smith’s Ballpark this year.
Whether it’s Utah’s final game of the season is a different question: The Utes (27-24, 15-15) will have to wait until Monday morning to see if they’ve done enough to warrant an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s the fine line I’m talking all year about winning and losing,” coach Bill Kinneberg said. “You look back right now, and one or two more wins in the Pac-12 might have solidified it for us. You just hope that it’s enough. Fifteen-15 will be a stretch.”
As the Utes sought to finish the sweep, their hopes were dampened from the very start by a serious injury to sophomore center fielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr.
Dashing for a home run by ASU’s Hunter Bishop, Keirsey collided with the outfield wall and collapsed. What was later learned to be a dislocated and fractured left hip led to a 30-minute break in the game as trainers attended to him on the warning track, eventually driving him off the field in the back of an ambulance.
Keirsey gave his teammates, gathered around him in the outfield, a thumbs-up as he was carted away, but the injury cast a pall over the regular season finale. Arizona State jumped on the Utes in those first three innings, seizing a 7-0 lead.
“It was kind of a big blow — he’s an impact player for us,” senior infielder Ellis Kelly said. “But he gave us a thumbs-up and told us go win it for him, so it made it easier to get out there and not give up on the game.”
Utah rallied in a big way in the bottom of the third, coming back to tie it at seven, thanks much to a grand slam by sophomore Zack Moeller. From there on out, the Utes and the Sun Devils played it close, and each team burned through its bullpen.
In the pivotal ninth, Utah had two runners aboard when Kelly, who accounted for three key RBI, swatted a double that scored Oliver Dunn for the tying run. ASU changed pitchers for the final time, while Utah, which had sent DH Wade Gulden to the outfield, pinch-hit with Hoffman so a pitcher wouldn’t have to hit.
“He’s a gamer,” Kinneberg said. “He’s not the most talented kid, but he’s a gamer.”
The Utes led only one other time in the game before the final inning on a contested play in the seventh inning: Kelly singled to shortstop, scoring a tying run, but when Moeller ran in for the go-ahead run, he was called out at the plate.
A video replay showed Arizona State’s catcher didn’t have the ball in his mitt on the tag. After strenuous arguing by Kinneberg and a brief umpire review, the call was changed, giving Utah the 9-8 lead.
Arizona State answered in the eighth with a pair of runs, getting the lead back until the ninth. But that’s what Utah’s been used to this year: Nothing is easy, especially not winning.
Said Kelly: “That game had a whole lot of everything.”