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UVU baseball: Comeback attempt falls short, UVU splits series with Pilots

Utah Valley senior outfielder Mark Krueger blasts out a three-run home run against Portland on Sunday afternoon at Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem.
Utah Valley senior outfielder Mark Krueger blasts out a three-run home run against Portland on Sunday afternoon at Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem.
Juan Flores Mena, UVU Athletics

Less than 24 hours removed from notching a ninth-inning comeback victory over Portland, Utah Valley University's second-straight comeback bid fell just short in the series finale on Sunday afternoon as the Pilots held on to take the matinee contest by a score of 8-6 and split the weekend series at two games apiece.

With the tying runners in scoring position and two outs in the last of the ninth, UP (10-6) closer Billy Sahlinger managed to strike out Paul Estrada to end UVU's (9-9) ninth-inning rally. Just prior to the strikeout, Justin Erlandson scored from third on a wild pitch to make it a two-run game at 8-6 and made things interesting as Greyson Bogden and Ryne Edmondson — who represented the tying runs — both advanced into scoring position.

"We didn't do a good enough job of getting the job done at the plate today," head coach Eric Madsen said. "We have to pitch cleaner, but overall we struck out too many times and went away from what makes us who we are at the plate. We need to find a way to clean things up before next week's series."

Despite suffering the setback, Mark Krueger had himself a ballgame at the plate by going 3-for-5 with five RBIs. Saturday night's hero Zac Willis was next, by finishing 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Cooper Hummel led UP with three runs batted in by recording a 3-for-5 performance of his own.

The Pilots struck first with an unearned run in the top of the first inning. UVU wasted no time answering, however, by scoring two runs of its own in the last of the first to take a 2-1 lead. With the bases loaded and two outs in the frame, Krueger drove home his first two runs of the game with a two-run single to center to give the Wolverines the early lead.

With two on and two out again in the third, Krueger blasted out a three-run home run to right to give UVU a 5-1 advantage. Willis and Estrada scored on the homer after reaching earlier in the frame on a respective single and a walk.

The Portland offense didn't go away from there, however, as it chipped away at the deficit and managed to tie things up at 5-all in the sixth with a run in the fourth, another in the fifth and two more in the sixth.

The score remained tied until the eighth when UP's Caleb Whalen came through with a two-out RBI single to right and Hummel followed with a two-run home run to left to take an 8-5 lead.

The insurance two-run home run proved to be the difference in the game as UVU managed to get one back in the ninth, but UP's Sahlinger closed the door on the Wolverines' ninth-inning rally by striking out Estrada to end the treat.

Marty Luckenbach earned the victory in relief for Portland to improve to 3-0, and Sahlinger recorded his sixth save of the season by allowing just the one run in the ninth. Marco Briones was tagged with the loss for UVU to fall to 1-1 on the season after giving up three runs in two innings of work.

The Wolverines remain home to continue their current seven-game home stand when Minnesota of the Big Ten Conference comes to town next weekend. The three-game non-conference series begins Friday, March 18, at 6 p.m., at UVU's Brent Brown Ballpark.

James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.