PROVO — On a night that saw archrivals BYU and Utah combine for four home runs, it was an infield single that ultimately won the game for the Cougars.
BYU freshman Colton Shaver belted two home runs Tuesday night at Larry H. Miller Field, and Ute third baseman Dallas Carroll drilled his first homer of the season — a fifth-inning grand slam.
But Hayden Nielsen’s infield RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, turned out to be the game-winner in the Cougars' 7-6 victory before a season-high crowd of 1,848.
“That’s a microcosm of Hayden Nielsen. That’s him. He’ll find a way to get it done,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said of the Spanish Fork High product. “His at-bats before weren’t good. I walked up there and said, 'If we do squeeze, which we probably won’t, make sure it’s away from the pitcher.' He said, ‘Coach, I’m going to hammer one here.’ That’s him. I knew he’d get it done. I didn’t know how, but I knew some way he’d get it done.”
Nielsen’s clutch hit came against another former Spanish Fork High star, Brock Duke.
“Brock’s such a gamer,” Littlewood said. “I can understand why (Utah) coach (Bill Kinneberg) brought him in (in that situation).”
Brandon Kinser (5-2) earned the victory for BYU after pitching two scoreless innings in relief. Michael Rucker closed out the game in the ninth, picking up his sixth save of the season.
Littlewood pointed out that Dillon Robinson also helped save the game for the Cougars in the seventh inning. That’s when BYU’s Brennon Lund singled and stole second, then Robinson knocked home Lund with a single to tie the game at 6-all.
“I thought Dillon Robinson’s at-bat in the seventh inning was the key at-bat in the game,” Littlewood said. “Shaver’s were pretty important, too. But Dillon’s at-bat was tremendous. If he doesn’t do that, we’re probably still playing right now.”
Shaver, a Jordan High product, blasted a three-run homer to left field in the third inning, giving the Cougars’ their first lead of the game,4-2.
But in the fifth, Carroll’s grand slam put the Utes ahead 6-4. Carroll’s homer came after Josh Rose was hit by a pitch, Kody Davis singled, and Cody Scaggari drew a walk. While it was Carroll’s first homer of the season, he came into Tuesday's game batting .463 with runners in scoring position.
But Shaver struck again for the Cougars in the bottom of the fifth with a solo homer to cut the deficit to 6-5.
“For a freshman to have his kind of approach is such an impressive thing to me,” Littlewood said of Shaver. “I think he’s a guy that walks up to the plate and instantly, if you’re the opposing team, you have fear because he can leave the yard at any time If he isn’t doing what he’s doing, then Dillon Robinson doesn’t have the year he has because guys will pitch him different and pitch around him. Dillon’s getting pitches to hit because of Shaver.”
Littlewood liked the way his players hung tough in the face of adversity.
“It was perseverance. When we got down, we didn’t get depressed and feel sorry for ourselves,” he said. “We just kept playing. When we got up, we didn’t get too excited. We put nine good innings together. That was really the difference.”
With the win, BYU evened the season series with Utah at 1-1. The Cougars lost to the Utes 9-3 in a rain-shortened contest last month at Utah.
The Utes haven’t won a season series against BYU since 1998, but they have another shot to accomplish that feat on May 12 in Salt Lake City.
BYU improved to 18-19 on the season while Utah fell to 13-23.
“The win’s big for a lot of different reasons — bragging rights, recruiting. It’s Utah-BYU. It’s a game we feel like we have to win, and I know coach Kinneberg feels like it’s a game he has to win,” Littlewood said. “There’s a lot of respect there, but you still want to win the game. I’m not sure it’s like football or basketball because there’s so many more people watching, but it means a lot to us, for sure.”