Utah Baseball Pac-12 Champs

LEADER OF THE PAC

To many college baseball pundits, the Utes did the unthinkable. They won the Pac-12 championship — a conference that has produced 28 national champions (including two in the past four years) — after finishing dead last in 2015. It’s the first time a men’s athletics team has won a Pac-12 championship since joining the conference in 2011 (Utah Gymnastics has won it twice). The title also clinched a berth in the NCAA postseason tournament, which is Utah’s second appearance since 1960.

Last year, Utah Baseball won seven conference games. This year, they won eight series versus Pac-12 foes. Utah entered conference play with a 3-11 record. But as the weather warmed up, so did the Utes, starting the Pac-12 season on a 7-2 run and finishing with a program-best 18-11 Pac-12 record.

“They went through the downs of getting through this league, and the grind, and how hard it was,” coach Bill Kinneberg told Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon. “They made a commitment, and it really showed.”

The championship came down to the final weekend of the regular season, at home versus the University of Washington. Against the beautiful backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains, Smith’s Park was adorned in red and the Ute faithful were rewarded with a barrage of excitement as Utah scored 33 runs in the series’ final two games to secure the conference championship outright.

For such a turnaround, Kinneberg was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, four players earned all-conference honors and three others were honorable mention picks.

In the first round of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship tournament, Utah, four seed in the four-team, double-elimination Oxford regional, gave a valiant effort, upsetting the host school and one seed Ole Miss on Friday night, 6-5 in extra innings. However, the Utes fell to Boston College, 4-3, on Saturday, and were eliminated by Tulane, 4-1, on Sunday.