Almost no one expected the University of Utah baseball team to be in this position in late April.

Utah was picked 10th in the preseason Pac-12 poll — the Pac-12 has 11 teams, as Colorado does not compete — but after a sweep of UCLA for the first time in school history, the Utes are tied with Arizona at the top of the conference standings.

On Monday, Utah was ranked No. 25 in the poll, the first time the Utes have ever cracked the rankings, and with a 29-13 record (14-7 Pac-12), Utah has surpassed its most wins ever in the Pac-12 era with 11 games, and the Pac-12 tournament, remaining.

While being ranked isn’t the ultimate goal — that’s to make the College World Series — it’s a sign that the program is doing something right.

“It just validates the things that you sell to your kids and the program that you put together, and again, the foundation that you lay, the personalities, attitudes, work ethic, how you construct a roster. It’s just a little bit of validation. We’ve got some more games to play, but it is nice to be noticed,” Utah head coach Gary Henderson said.

The Utes have won series against Washington State, Cal, Stanford, Arizona State, Washington and UCLA, with their only Pac-12 series loss coming at the hands of No. 6 Oregon State.

After going 22-32-1 last season with a 9-20-1 conference record, it’s been a drastic turnaround for the Utes. Henderson says that it starts with Utah’s starting pitching, led by Bryson Van Sickle (2.62 ERA) and Randon Hostert (3.30 ERA), who both rank in the top six in the Pac-12.

Add in some good team defense, some speed on the base paths (Utah ranks No. 31 in the nation in stolen bases per game), a good offense (Utah is scoring 7.5 runs per game) and good relief pitching (Micah Ashman is tied for third in the nation in saves per game), and you have a recipe for success.

At the top of the lineup, Core Jackson (.367 batting average, 35 RBI, four home runs) and Kai Roberts (.364 batting average, 48 RBI, six home runs) have been consistent for the Utes, while cleanup hitter TJ Clarkson has come on as of late with four home runs and eight RBIs in the series against Arizona State.

He leads the Utes with nine home runs and is second on the team in RBIs with 42.

“I started off pretty slow. I wasn’t really trusting my swing. I had to believe in myself, get back to the basics and then it helps the lineup a lot because I’ve been in the four hole all year, so I got to pull my weight,” Clarkson said.

This year’s team had a chip on its shoulder after being picked so low in the preseason poll, multiple players said.

“I mean, being picked last in preseason really fueled the fire, and just looking around, we don’t have the facilities that other Pac-12 schools have, none of us turned down money out of high school for the draft, none of us were preseason All-Americans and I think that really just fueled our fire, made the chip on our shoulder even bigger and we go out there and try and prove ourselves every day,” Roberts said.

That chip is especially big for the 12 Utah natives on the team, including Roberts, who played at Skyridge High.

“Utah gets a bad rap for baseball. Not just the colleges here, but the kids in Utah. A lot of people say that not a lot of great baseball comes out of Utah, so to be able to do this this year and on the track we’re on is really special to me as a local guy,” Roberts said.

That motivation, alongside the amount of time they spent together on the road early on in the season, has created some great chemistry.

“I think another thing that’s really important about this group is they really truly like each other. They like being at the ballpark and they like to play,” Henderson said.

The last time Utah made the NCAA tournament was in 2016, when it went 19-11 in conference play to win the Pac-12 despite a 26-29 overall record, and making another appearance is the goal as the season hits the home stretch.

The winner of the Pac-12 tournament receives the conference’s automatic bid, but even if the Utes don’t win the conference tournament, there’s a shot at an at-large bid, especially with a good finish to the end of the season.

With three conference series remaining — starting at Oregon this Friday, vs. Arizona at home in a pivotal matchup the following weekend and at USC the weekend after that to finish out the regular season — Utah has a big opportunity to improve its RPIs.

Ranked No. 61 in RPIs, the Utes are currently on the 64-team NCAA tournament bubble.

Baseball America currently has the Utes as the “last four in” in their latest bracketology prediction but warns that they are in a precarious place on the bubble due to their nonconference strength of schedule, which ranks 215th.

“They need to go 8-2 down the stretch (at Oregon, at Utah Tech, Arizona, at Southern California) to push their RPI into the top 50 before the conference tournament,” Teddy Cahill writes.

“If Utah ends up on the bubble, its non-conference strength of schedule (215) is going to be held against it and it’s just 3-3 in quad 1 (it split series against Oregon State and at Cal). Everything is in front of Utah, but if it wants to earn its first at-large bid in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament, it needs a strong finish.”

Being part of the turnaround of the program he grew up watching has been one of Roberts’ favorite moments of his life.

“Yeah, it’s been awesome,” he said. “Growing up, coming here as a freshman, we weren’t very good. To see the program turn around, this has been one of my favorite baseball memories and one of my favorite memories of my life.”