In multiple ways, BYU sophomore Danny Gelalich picked a good spot for his first home run in college baseball.
The right-handed batter lofted a fly ball to by far the shortest area of Smith's Ballpark. Gelalich's grand slam, landing just inside the right-field foul pole at the 315-foot sign, broke an eighth-inning tie Tuesday night. The No. 24 Cougars went on to claim a 10-3 victory.
BYU (34-14) leads the West Coast Conference and likely is headed to the NCAA regionals in late May, but the Cougars' season would have been incomplete without a win over Utah.
“It's definitely another box checked, for sure,” Gelalich said.
BYU coach Mike Littlewood never downplays the rivalry. “I've always faced it and said it's a huge deal,” he said again Tuesday.
• BYU sophomore Danny Gelalich’s first career home run, a tie-breaking grand slam in the eighth inning, helps the Cougars beat Utah 10-3 at Smith’s Ballpark.
• Utah wastes a strong effort from starting pitcher Jacob Rebar, who allows one run in 6.1 innings.
• The No. 24 Cougars will open a three-game series Thursday at Santa Clara; Utah concludes Pac-12 play with home games Thursday through Saturday vs. Washington State.
The Utes (12-32) have lost 11 straight games. Utah broke a nine-game losing streak in early April with an 8-6 home-field defeat of BYU in the other rivalry contest this season. The teams' scheduled game in Provo was rained out. That's another reason Littlewood wanted to win, while recognizing that another nonconference loss would have hurt his team's NCAA at-large possibilities.
BYU had tied the game 2-2 on Casey Jacobsen’s RBI single earlier in the eighth. Utah (12-32) had gone ahead 2-1 on Shea Kramer’s RBI double in the seventh inning.
McCleve came into the game in the seventh inning and struck out BYU star Brock Hale with the bases loaded, preserving the nice effort of Utah starter Jacob Rebar. McCleve couldn't work out of his own trouble in the eighth, though. Gelalich, the No. 9 batter in BYU's order, homered in his 122nd college at-bat to conclude a good duel with McCleve.
Gelalich liked the way he connected with McCleve's fastball, but was hardly convinced the ball was headed out of the park. In that situation, he might have been happy with a go-ahead sacrifice fly, but he was asking for more as he ran down the first-base line.
“I was praying, for sure,” he said. “I was trying to blow it fair.”
“I wanted that ball to stay fair more than I've wanted any ball to stay fair in my life,” Littlewood said.
Referencing the 315-foot mark, where the fence juts in toward the field, Gelalich smiled and said, “I think I hit it 316.”
Oliver Dunn drove in two of Utah's runs with sacrifice flies. Hale doubled in a run in the first inning and hit his 11th homer of the season for BYU in the ninth. Mitch McIntyre then added a two-run homer for the Cougars, who scored nine runs in the last two innings.
BYU used six pitchers. Reid McLaughlin earned the victory with two innings of work, despite allowing a go-ahead run in the eighth, before the BYU offense asserted itself. “Our pitching staff’s been really resilient,” Littlewood said.