Utes junior Chandler Anderson took a big swing hoping not only to lift his team, but also to lift spirits of family members on the other side of the country.
Anderson’s first home run of the season — a grand slam in the third inning against rival BYU — made all the difference in Utah’s 6-3 win in front of an announced crowd of 3,466 at Smith’s Ballpark on Tuesday night. The Utes grabbed their third straight win over their rivals to wrap up the season having won three of the four games.
Anderson, a Park City resident, punished Cougars pitching this season. He had three hits, an RBI and with two runs scored in the previous game against the in-state rivals — a Utes win on April 24. Tuesday, Anderson came through again by driving in four of his team’s six runs on one swing.
“I felt like I was playing in front of half of Utah today with a large crowd here at Smith’s Ballpark and I wanted to give them a show,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s performance meant more than local bragging rights. Anderson revealed that his uncle on his mother’s side received a cancer diagnosis on Tuesday, and Anderson “played for them.”
“I hit it and the first thing I thought of was my mom,” Anderson said. “I wish she was here to watch it tonight, but she’s out on the East Coast due to family emergency. I did it, hopefully, to lift her spirits and I can’t wait to call her up.”
The Utes snapped a four-game losing slide that included being swept in a three-game series this past weekend by top-ranked Stanford. The Cougars (19-24) have now lost seven consecutive games.
Sophomore pitcher Spencer Kevin Johnson (2-0) tossed four innings and allowed two runs (one earned) and struck out eight to earn the win after coming on in relief of Riley Pierce.
“We were hoping to get two out of Pierce,” Utes coach Bill Kinneberg said. “His shoulder kind of tensed up on him a little bit. That [Johnson’s pitching] was huge all though I didn’t want to throw him that much because he’s going to throw this weekend at some point. He sure picked us up and gobbled those four innings up, which was really important.”
The Cougars’ first run came in the top of the third after Brock Hale reached on an infield single, stole second, advanced on a throwing error by the catcher and then scored on a two-out throwing error by Utes third baseman Rykker Tom.
The Utes responded in the bottom half of the inning with five runs. Cougars starting pitcher Kenny Saenz allowed a double, hit two batters and walked in a run to tie the score. With the bases still loaded, Anderson sent the first pitch from relief pitcher Alex Perron high over the left-field wall for a grand slam to put the Utes in front 5-1.
Jarrett Perns’ two-out sun-aided RBI triple — Utes center fielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr. lost track of the ball — cut into the the deficit in the fourth inning.
Shea Kramer’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded tacked on another run in the sixth inning for the Utes.
The Cougars mounted a brief ninth-inning rally that featured a two-out RBI single by Nate Favero, but Utes reliever Trenton Stotz stranded two men on to end the threat. The Cougars left 12 men on base.
“I think three of the four [games] came down to the last batter,” Cougars coach Mike Littlewood said. “We left the tying run at the plate. That game was kind of a microcosm of our season right there, just inability to get the big hit, giving too many gifts on the bases and seeing another team get a big hit.”