Imagine you are a BYU or Utah pitcher and your coach tabs you to pitch against your rival.
Now, imagine you are Utah’s Kai Roberts and you are standing at the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and the winning run is on second base — and you’re hitless on the night.
One of those nightmares had to end Tuesday after a nearly four-hour game at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City.
Roberts drove a Reid McLaughlin fastball up the middle, scoring Davis Cop, to lift the Utes to an 8-7 win over the Cougars, giving assistant coach Todd Guilliams — who is filling in as head coach Gary Henderson serves a two-week suspension — a welcomed win in the rivalry game after Utah was drubbed 10-3 at the same field a month ago.
The Utes rallied from a 5-1 deficit, and the crowd of 1,526 fans that were still left on the cool, damp evening witnessed an on-field celebration that ended in a pile of Utes in short center field.
“It was a fastball,” said Roberts. “He (McLaughlin) sets everything up off his fastball, and they got a few by me earlier in the game.”
Roberts had struck out twice and walked three times in his earlier at-bats. Cop ran as soon as the ball was hit and dove for the plate, striking it with his left hand as the throw from center field went wide.
“The kids showed some toughness,” said Guilliams. “The kids knew it was an important game. They could feel it. It was nerves.”
Jayden Kiernan and Alex Baeza escaped the nerves . Each had two hits, and Kiernan was credited with three RBIs.
BYU’s Brock Watkins added a three-run homer in the second inning, while Ryan Sepede and Austin Deming each had two hits, and Sepede scored the tying run in the seventh inning that set up the finale.
Those hits were the most-exciting part of this year’s three-game series thus far, which is now even at 1-1 with the final match scheduled for May 17 at BYU’s Miller Field.
The teams didn’t want to upset their pitching rotation with important league matches looming, so they changed pitchers at every opportunity.
Utah’s Randon Hostert lasted just one inning and had a solid first inning, but gave up a three consecutive hits and a hit batsman that led to five BYU runs.
The Utes used seven other hurlers, with Micah Ashman throwing the last two innings and earning the win.
BYU started Peyton Cole, who only faced seven hitters before being replaced with a 5-1 lead.
The Cougars used 10 pitchers. Cy Nielsen was the highlight, taking over over in the fourth inning when the Utes had the bases loaded and nobody out.
He gave up a sacrifice fly, then struck out the next two hitters to end the threat.
“We both have pitchers who need work,” said Guilliams. “We have to be careful. You can’t give it (the game) away.”
Utah improved its record to 21-14-1. The Utes are in the middle of the Pac-12 Conference standings with a three-game road swing at USC starting Friday.
BYU fell to 20-14 and has four straight home games approaching, starting Thursday against San Diego.
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