Head coach Bill Kinneberg thought this was it, The Leap.
The Utes had finished the 2013 campaign on a high note, winning four of their last six and capping the season with a win against No. 7 Oregon. They’d had a great fall. Most of their staff remained in tact.
Pac-12 baseball standings
1. Oregon St. 20-4 38-8
2. Washington 19-5 36-11
T-3. Oregon 14-10 35-16
T-3. Arizona St. 14-10 26-21
5. USC 14-13 26-22
6. Wash. St. 12-12 22-24
7. Stanford 11-13 24-21
8. UCLA 10-14 23-25-1
9. Cal 9-15 21-25
10. Arizona 8-19 19-30
11. Utah 4-20 15-30
Utah vs. BYU
When » 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where » Smith’s Ballpark
Series » BYU leads 2-1
TV » Pac-12 Network
And yet here, a few months later, Utah is once again last in the Pac-12.
At 4-20, they’ve been outscored 138 to 74. They’re hitting .205 to their opponents’ .294. In conference games, they rank last in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, RBIs and earned run average.
Kinneberg, clear-eyed, refuses to blame luck. Injuries to Braden Anderson, Dallas Carroll, Tyler Yagi and A.J. Young have exacerbated their struggles, he says, but injuries are not uncommon.
It simply means that his job is not yet done.
"I knew what we were getting into," says Kinneberg, who coached at Arizona for five seasons and Arizona State for two seasons. "I knew the quality of the teams that we were going to compete against each weekend, and what a jump that was from the Mountain West or the WAC. There was a player-to-player difference."
How, then, does Utah get over the hump? More: Is any hump as steep?
The U. has charged its Rocky Mountain program with competing in places where the worst of winter can be described as "brisk," where baseball is king among preps, and where cozy on-campus stadiums offer players a sense of ownership and fans a lively atmosphere.
So far, the best they can manage against that is 18-66.
Snow problem? » Kinneberg insists there’s very little the Utes can’t do during their 132-day allotment that other teams can.
That doesn’t mean life on the Wasatch isn’t harder than elsewhere.
The Utes travel nonstop from February to mid-March, an exhaustive stretch for a team trying to hone its swings, motions, dives and what have you. They even drive to St. George on weekends for preseason work.
Senior catcher Konnor Armijo concedes that practicing indoors at the Spence Eccles Field House, "hinders our ability — not being outside when USC and UCLA can get outside year-round and work on more stuff." So the Utes control what they can control and pride themselves on their attention to detail in small-ball situations, Armijo says.
Colorado, Utah’s Pac-12 classmate, doesn’t field a baseball program. Pac-12 Network analyst Kevin Stocker says however that the success of teams like No. 1 Oregon State and No. 15 Oregon "dispels the myth" that quality and distance from the equator strictly correlate.
Kinneberg — who has led the Utes as far as the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009 — agrees. The elements are a disadvantage, he says, but that’s "never going to be an excuse for me."
No place called home » Most schools in the Pac-12 play in on-campus stadiums. Most are the lone tenants of their stadiums.
But not Utah.Next Page >
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