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Eighth-inning rally boosts USC over Utah in Pac-12 baseball tournament

Utah's Payton Riske pitches against USC in the Pac-12 tournanemnt on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Utah's Payton Riske pitches against USC in the Pac-12 tournanemnt on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona. | Sophia Kuder/Utah Athletics

An eighth-inning rally boosted USC to a 7-6 comeback victory over Utah in the opening game of the Pac-12 baseball tournament.

After giving up a run to USC in the second inning on a Brayden Dowd RBI single, the Utes would score five runs in three innings to take a commanding 5-1 lead.

Drake Digiorno got the Utes on the board with a sacrifice bunt in the top of the third inning, then Kai Roberts scored on a Trojan error to put the Utes up 2-1. Utah would build on that lead in the fourth inning with a Bruer Webster RBI single and a Core Jackson RBI single, then Kaden Carpenter came through with an RBI single of his own in the fifth inning.

Utah starter Payton Riske, the son of former MLB pitcher David Riske, had been solid all night, but allowed a two-out double by Dean Carpentier and the next batter, Carson Wells, cashed in with a two-run homer to right centerfield to bring the Trojans within striking distance, 5-3.

“His last couple of outings have been really good. I was really hoping to get 15 outs from him and we did. So I’m happy with Riske for sure,” Utah coach Gary Henderson said.

USC closed the gap to one on a Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek RBI single off Brett Porthan in the bottom of the sixth inning, and in the ensuing half-inning, Core Jackson walked and Kai Roberts hit a double to put men on second and third with no outs for the Utes.

Digiorno hit a ground ball to USC third baseman Ethan Hedges, who tagged out Jackson, who moved toward home on the hit and didn’t get back to the base in time, and fired to first for the double play to get out of the jam. Roberts flied out to end the inning.

Carpenter hit a huge solo home run in the top of the eighth inning that gave Utah a two-run lead, but the trouble for the Utes began in USC’s half of the inning.

Jackson Elder, who threw a scoreless seventh inning, allowed two hits to open the frame — a double and a single — before Utah manager Gary Henderson brought in closer Micah Ashman, who has 11 saves on the season.

“Jackson, 14 pitches to get his first four outs. You feel pretty good about running somebody back out there in the eighth after that. But we left a couple balls up, SC hit them hard and didn’t work out for the Utes,” Henderson said.

The first batter Ashman faced, Hedges, hit a sacrifice fly to score one, and Overn tagged and went to second on the play. Utah believed he left first base early on the sacrifice fly and threw to first base to appeal the play, and while the Utes did that, Overn ran from second to third. Umpires ruled that Overn hadn’t left first base early and he remained at third base with one out.

The next batter, Martin-Grudzielanek, singled Overn home to tie the game, then Brayden Dowd hit an RBI double that gave USC a 7-6 lead. Ashman retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done and the Utes were done to their last three outs.

USC reliever Josh Blum sat the Utes down in order to end the game and complete the comeback win.

It was the fourth loss in a row at the hands of the Trojans, who swept Utah in Los Angeles to close the regular season.

“Preparation was the same. We had a pretty good idea of what they can do and they got a really good idea of what we can do. So it just comes down to execution. They did a good job in the eight,” Henderson said.

It was eerily similar to the Utes’ contest against the Trojans last Thursday, when Utah had a two-run lead entering the eighth inning, only for USC to explode with a four-run inning to secure the win.

Utah falls to 0-1 in Pac-12 tournament pool play, with a game against Oregon tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. MDT.