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Opening win: 9th-inning rally lifts Bees

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The skies were blue, the temperature was unusually mild for early April and a big crowd filed into Franklin Covey Field for the Salt Lake Bees season opener on Thursday night.

And the home team won after the last crack of the bat with on a play at the plate.

It was just about a perfect night of baseball.

Salt Lake rallied from a three-run deficit to beat the Las Vegas 51s 4-3 when Bees veteran Nick Gourneault ripped a one-out double off the top of the leftfield fence, scoring Kendry Morales from first in the bottom of the ninth.

Gourneault and Morales — like most of the 8,327 fans in attendance — thought the line-drive was going over the outfield wall for a game-winning homer. Morales, rounding second and running to third, started pumping his fist in celebration before he realized the ball was still in play after caroming off the fence.

"To be honest with you, I thought I had gotten it (for a home run)," said Gourneault. "Kendry was celebrating a little early there, but then he turned it back on when he realized it wasn't out of the park."

Thanks to Morales' early celebration, there was a fairly close play at the plate, but Morales was able to slide in for the game-winning run.

"If they'd have hit the cut-off man, he'd have been out," admitted Bees manager and third base coach Brian Harper.

Gourneault, the Bees RBI leader in each of the past two years, got off to a fast start to the season.

"That's what you dream about right there — to have the game on the line and to come through," he said. "It's definitely a good feeling."

After spotting the 51s three runs in the first two innings — two as the result of a fielding error — the Bees battled back to knot the game. Salt Lake catcher Jeff Mathis hit a two-out, line-drive double off the left-centerfield wall to score Nathan Haynes for the first Bees run of the season in the third. In the fourth Mike Eylward and Matt Brown drove in runs to tie the game, 3-3.

Bees starter Kasey Olenberger pitched six strong innings, giving up just one earned run with four strikeouts. Three relievers — Matt Wilhite, Marcus Gwyn and Alex Serrano — each hurled a scoreless inning for Salt Lake.

"Kasey is one of those guys who battles and gives you six or seven innings to keep you in the game, and he did that tonight," said Harper. "And the bullpen was solid."

And the Bees got just enough timely hits to earn a season-opening win.

"That was a good way to start," said Harper. "The only thing better would have been if (Gourneault's) ball would have gotten out. Then we could have relaxed going around the bases."

Actually, the fans didn't seem to mind the long double and the play at the plate to end it, either.

The same two teams will meet today at 6:30 p.m. Salt Lake RHP Henry Bonilla will start on the mound against Las Vegas' D.J. Houlton.

BEELINES: The Bees will have their first matinee on a Saturday in franchise history this weekend with a 2 p.m. first pitch. The Bees are experimenting with Saturday day games this season and will have two more — on April 28 and May 26 ... The Bees have two more day games scheduled this home stand — on Easter Sunday at 2 p.m. and on Wednesday when they have a 1 p.m. ... Las Vegas outfielder Mitch Jones grew up in Orem before going to college at Arizona State. He went 3-for-3, scored a run and was hit by a pitch on Thursday.

E-mail: lojo@desnews.com