Utah relief pitcher Micah Ashman jogged out to the mound for what he thought would be just another routine save, but found out after the game that it was much more than that.

Unaware that he was on the brink of history, Ashman took over on the mound in the ninth inning against CSUN, coming on with one out, a four-run lead for Utah, and two men on base.

“I love the program. I love the coaches, really was the biggest part. And I think the Pac-12 is some of the best baseball in the country and I was playing against the best guys in the country. Can’t really ask for more.”

—  Utah pitcher Micah Ashman on decision to play for Utes

Ashman induced a flyout from Mason Le, then got Kamau Neighbors to ground out for the final out, cementing Ashman’s place in the Utah record books.

It was the 18th save of Ashman’s career, breaking the all-time Utah program record set by Tyler Wagner, who had 17 saves in his Ute career from 2010-12. Ashman found out about setting the record postgame.

“Cool thing to be able to tell my kids some day, something like that. It’s just cool to have your name on the list like that,” Ashman said.

Since his record-breaking moment, the southpaw has tallied two more saves, making it 11 on the year for him, and is tied for third-most saves this season in Division I baseball. His 2.19 ERA over 24.2 innings is also the lowest on Utah’s team.

Alongside relief pitcher Randon Hostert, it brings coach Gary Henderson “tremendous calm” to see Ashman run out for a save.

“They do throw strikes. You can count on them to throw strikes. They have the right temperament for that task. Really, really glad that they’re a part of what we’re doing,” Henderson said.

Of course, a reliever is helped out tremendously by starting pitching and offense, and Utah’s ace Bryson Van Sickle, who has a 2.8 ERA over 80.1 innings pitched, has been instrumental in setting up save situations for Ashman. So too has Utah’s offense, led by Kai Roberts (.365, 56 RBI), TJ Clarkson (.270, 48 RBI) and Core Jackson (.366, 39 RBI).

“Starting pitching, I mean, it’s been awesome all year, but it kind of sets the tone of the game always,” Ashman said. When we have good starting pitching, I think we play a lot better. Our offense is a lot better and it kind of takes a little stress off me seeing that we can go dominate these guys, I can go get these guys out. It’s no problem.”

The son of BYU offensive tackle John Ashman, who played for the Cougars in the early 1990s, and Marinda Ashman, who played volleyball at BYU from 1987-90, Micah starred at Jordan High, winning a state championship with the Beetdiggers in 2018.

Utah pitchers Micah Ashman delivers a pitch during game against BYU at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.
Utah pitchers Micah Ashman delivers a pitch during game against BYU at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. Ashman became the Utes' all-team saves leader this season. | Sophia Kuder, Utah Athletics

When the time came to make his college decision, he chose to stay in the state of Utah, heading 19 miles north to his new home.

Playing in the Pac-12 was a major factor in Ashman’s decision to attend Utah, and playing in the Big 12 next season will provide a new challenge for the lefty and the Utes.

“I love the program. I love the coaches, really was the biggest part. And I think the Pac-12 is some of the best baseball in the country and I was playing against the best guys in the country. Can’t really ask for more,” Ashman said.

Ashman contributed right away for the Utes during his freshman season in 2022, playing in 25 games with a 3.29 ERA over 27.1 innings, then built on that in 2023.

Last year, Ashman was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference team after recording nine saves on the season, which was at that point the most by a Utah pitcher since 2016, and was in the top 25 nationally in saves. He had a 3.63 ERA over 34.2 innings of relief action.

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This season, Ashman has been a big part of the Utes’ baseball revival, as Utah holds a 16-11 conference record (32-18 overall) heading into the final regular-season series against USC. Though the Utes slipped from the mountaintop of the Pac-12 (now in fourth place in the conference), losing series at nationally ranked Oregon and Arizona, plus a nonconference game against Utah Tech, they still have the most wins in the program’s Pac-12 era.

To punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since they won the Pac-12 in 2016, though, they’ll likely have to win the final Pac-12 baseball tournament, which opens up on May 21.

By any measure, this season has been a big improvement over the other two seasons Ashman has been a part of — 26-27-1 in 2022 and 22-32-1 in 2023 — and he’s seen the program take shape under Henderson.

“It’s been really cool to see the program shape into what Henderson kind of wants and what he is a coach of. Every year you see more and more guys of more competitive nature and who just want to be here more,” Ashman said. “And I think this year especially, we got more and more of those guys and I think that’s why we’re so much better this year.”

Henderson, a former pitcher himself, is a college baseball lifer and has been coaching since 1988. Nearly every player interviewed has said that Henderson has been a huge help for the mental side of their game, Ashman included.

“He’s a big guy on the mindset, so he’s really helped me in that aspect. I feel like when I first got here, I would kind of get frustrated at myself easily or let that kind of go into my next pitch and he kind of helped me on that aspect,” Ashman said. “... I just think he really helped me on that, the mental side, which is I think the biggest part of baseball.”

As the Utes finish out the regular season in Los Angeles, and head into the Pac-12 tournament, Ashman will be counted on in save situations and in relief.

“I think we just got to go out and play our game. I think we can’t worry about who we’re playing or what the circumstances are when we’re playing, weather, any of that. We just got to go out and play our game and know how good we are,” Ashman said.

Utah Utes pitcher Micah Ashman (57) practices at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News