It is a special feeling. No matter how good each team is…we always know this is going to be a battle. —BYU head coach Mike Littlewood
SALT LAKE CITY — The BYU-Utah baseball rivalry first ignited in 1895 when the two teams exchanged blows in a heated, scoreless battle on the diamond that erupted into a bench-clearing brawl.
Fast forward nearly 120 years, and the state of Utah has been divided into two sides, red and blue, as dedicated citizens and fans faithfully pledge their allegiance to their team every year.
“It is a special feeling,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said of the rivalry. “No matter how good each team is we always know this is going to be a battle.”
Both schools have experienced their fair share of baseball success throughout the years, but the rivalry has been fairly one-sided, especially as of late.
BYU (9-17, 1-5) has dominated the all-time series vs. Utah (9-14, 0-6), 238-110, and most recently handed the Utes a dismantling 20-3 loss in Provo earlier this month.
In the latest installment of the 119-year-old rivalry, BYU posted a narrow 4-3 extra-innings win over Utah Tuesday night at Smith’s Ballpark to win its second straight game over the Utes this season and just its second win in its last 11 games.
“I’ve been in this rivalry since ’85 when I played at BYU, so it’s been about 30 years that I’ve been involved in this rivalry,” added Littlewood. “So it’s great to come away with a win at their park for sure.”
The Cougars drew first blood in the top of the first inning off senior first baseman Brock Whitney’s RBI single up the middle.
Whitney came up huge for the Cougars all night, as he went 3 for 5 from the plate with three RBIs.
“He got off to a slow start, but man, the last three or four weeks he’s really been doing that for us,” Littlewood said. “If we can get a little bit of support around him, our offense will really go.”
The Utes played small ball until senior shortstop Cory Hunt roped a single to left field to drive in Kody Davis and quickly get the home team up on the board.
The Utes kept the Cougars’ bats relatively quiet until freshman infielder Hunter Simmons drove a single up the middle to bring in another Utah run and put the home team up, 2-1.
Utah had a strong night on the mound and its defense backed it up to help the Utes take a 3-1 lead off another RBI single by Hunt in the home-half of the seventh.
BYU wouldn’t go that quietly, however, as the visitors came together and rallied in the top of the eighth to keep their hopes alive.
Once again, Whitney walked up to the plate with two outs and belted a towering shot off the center-field fence to score two runs and tie the score at 3-3.
“We need Brock to do that,” Littlewood said. “His part was enough to get us over the hump tonight.”
Utah was able to load up the bases in the bottom of the eighth, but the Utes just couldn’t capitalize and left all three runners on base as the inning ended.
BYU’s Whitney, Jarrett Jarvis and Parker Starr all came up in the top of the 11th inning and sparked a run to help Whitney safely cross home plate, giving the Cougars the nail-biting 4-3 victory.19 comments on this story
“This is one of those things that can kind of get you over that hump to get you rolling a little bit,” said Littlewood. “It’s always great to beat Utah, but looking at the bigger picture, it’s going to get our program rolling.”
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724