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Utah baseball: Utes' season comes to an end at NCAA Regionals with 4-1 loss to Tulane

OXFORD, Miss. — Utah’s dream run, one that included the school’s first ever Pac-12 title in a men’s sport, finally come to an end Sunday at the hands of the Tulane Green Wave.

For three innings it appeared the Utes (26-29) were destined for another close ballgame as they were deadlocked in a scoreless contest with the Green Wave (41-20) with neither team showing a decided advantage. The Green Wave, however, finally got to Utah starter Josh Lapiana in the fourth inning when red-hot first baseman Hunter Williams doubled to left field and scored when Jeremy Montalbano homered over the bullpen in left field. The Green Wave added to their lead three batters later when Hunter Hope homered over the wall in left center. The three runs were enough as the Green Wave prevailed with a 4-1 win.

“It’s always disappointing to end the year,” Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg said. “Most teams end with a loss, so that’s disappointing, sure. As I told our players at the end of the game when we were in our huddle, it’s going to hurt for a little bit, but we’re going to realize what happened with this program and where we started and where we ended up this year. For us and at the University of Utah, this team will go down in history, so I’m so proud of this group and what they accomplished.”

The Utes threatened to answer in the home half of the fourth, loading the bases with two outs, but hope ended when Zack Moeller grounded into a fielder’s choice, ending the inning.

After scoring nine runs in the first 14 innings of the Oxford Regional, the Utes struggled to generate any offense as they went scoreless for 12 consecutive innings before Cody Scaggari homered in the eighth inning to get Utah finally on the board. Scaggari finished the game 2 for 4 with a double and the home run. He also finishes the year as the team leader in batting average (.330), doubles (12) and RBIs (33).

“Baseball is an interesting game because it turns on you on a dime,” Kinneberg said. “If you look back and if you think about that game yesterday, Cody Davis, who is our most reliable bunt guy and really an outstanding bunter, we have first and second and pops a sacrifice bunt up, and then we have a base-running error after that. But in the last two months, we recovered from those things, but we didn’t yesterday. I felt like we were ready to play today, and their pitcher did a really nice job.”

As a team, Utah was only 5 for 30 at the plate, including 1 for 10 with a runner on base and 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position. The Utes never had a runner reach third base with fewer than two outs.

While the Utes struggled collectively at the plate, designated hitter Kellen Marruffo continued his hot weekend against Tulane, going 2 for 4 and finishing the regional 5 for 11 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI. He also reached base twice after being hit by a pitch.

“I think if you would have asked me before the game if Tulane scores four runs, we would probably be pretty close or ahead,” Kinneberg said. “Our pitching and our defense did an outstanding job. We just never got anything going offensively. Their pitcher did a great job of mixing speeds and keeping us off balance, so kudos to him and the Tulane team.”

Lapiana (4-6, 4.25 ERA) took the loss, completing 4.2 innings allowing three runs (all earned) on five hits while striking out two and walking four. Ross Massey (10-3, 2.20) earned the win, throwing 8.0 innings and allowing one run (earned) on five hits while striking out four and walking two. Sam Bjorngjeld (1-0, 1 save, 3.10) picked up the save, working a perfect ninth inning.

While Riley Ottesen did not have a dream freshman campaign from a statistical perspective, he had an outstanding weekend in Oxford. Ottesen kept the Utes in the game by allowing only one run (earned) on two hit in 4.1 innings while striking out seven batters and only walking two. Otteson dropped his season earned run average nearly one-and-a-half runs to 5.98 in the Oxford Regional alone.

“It was just a moment that you need to embrace,” Ottesen said of his weekend. “It starts with trust, and I trusted those guys to do their job."