It is what it is. I mean we didn’t play well enough to win enough games. —Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg summed up the current season in five words: “It is what it is.”
It’s been a tough campaign for the Utes. They got off to a 1-13 start while Kinneberg served a suspension after the university self-reported impermissible practices and coaching activities to the NCAA. Injuries also took a toll on a young squad that lost 12 players from 2017, including four that were taken in the MLB draft.
“We knew we were in a transition year. That was expected,” Kinneberg said. “Now, with all that has happened, we didn’t expect all of this. But we knew we were going to be young and be inexperienced. As a staff we knew this was going to be a tough year.”
Utah enters its final homestand of the season — this weekend against Washington — with an overall record of 14-35. The Utes are last in the Pac-12 with a 6-18 conference mark.
“It is what it is,” Kinneberg said. “I mean we didn’t play well enough to win enough games.”
This has happened to the Utes before, Kinneberg noted, adding that they’re in a “very hard league.”
Prior to winning the Pac-12 title in 2016, Utah went 25-94-1 in conference play — finishing in the cellar in each of its first four seasons in the league. The Utes then claimed the championship with a 19-11 mark. They tied for fifth at 15-15 a year ago.
The drop that has followed is something Kinneberg said the program has to accept and move on from.
“It’s been tough,” he acknowledged.
Injuries began to mount after starting catcher Zack Moeller, a junior, was sidelined with Tommy John surgery in February. The veteran was second on the team in 2017 with five homers and 11 doubles. He was third in slugging percentage (.429).
The loss of Moeller put a lot of wear and tear on backup Chris Rowan and thrust infielder Shea Kramer into a lot of duty behind the plate. Depth also proved to be an issue on the mound, where the loss of five pitchers has put stress and strain on a once-deep staff.
In addition, junior outfielder DaShawn Keirsey, Jr., battled a pulled hamstring early in the season. Fortunately for the Utes, Keirsey went on to rank among the top hitters in the Pac-12. He is expected to be drafted next month.
“It’s been an interesting year as far as that goes,” Kinneberg said of the challenges the Utes have faced.
Kinneberg noted that a combination of things — ranging from having six freshmen on the field at times because of injuries to his 14-game suspension to start off the season — put a cloud over the program that was definitely not a positive. Heavy personnel losses from the previous season didn’t help.
“We kind of knew this year was going to be a little rough,” said Kinneberg, who noted a silver lining in the fact that several young players got their feet wet and should be better in the future.
Utah needs just two wins over season-ending series with Washington and then at Washington State to post the team’s third-best conference record since joining the Pac-12 in 2012.
“I’ll never call it a lost season because of the experience the young guys attained through this,” Kinneberg said. “Maybe you could ask me this in three years or two years.”
Kinneberg added the Utes “better be” improved in the future, noting that they have a “very good recruiting class” coming in. Staying healthy is pivotal.
Getting Moeller back is a big deal. So, too, is having the younger players on the team put together great summers and come back like veterans.
Moving on without six seniors and Keirsey, Kinneberg acknowledged, won’t be easy.
“We’re going to have to fill some holes,” he said.
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