<strong>COLUMBUS, Gerogia—</strong> Playing in its first ever NCBA World Series championship, the Utah State club baseball team jumped all over six-time champion Colorado State early and often in a dominant 14-3 win for its first national championship Thursday.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s surreal,” USU head coach Norm Doyle said. “We just blew them off the field. It wasn’t even a contest tonight. I had a strong feeling we would be hitting the ball tonight. We gave up five earned runs the entire tournament, our pitching has been phenomenal.”
The Aggies got help from the Rams early on, as Colorado State committed three errors in the first three innings – including one that led to Utah State’s first run in the second inning. Senior Gavin Johnson reached base on an error, then scored on an RBI-single from fifth-year senior Brady Zimmerman.
Another run scored on an RBI-single by senior Matt Stranski to put USU up 2-0 in the third, and Johnson doubled the lead with a 2-run home run one batter later.
Utah State’s defense came up big all day, getting several key stops throughout the game, including a couple of diving stops that robbed the Rams of hits. Senior Brett Jensen in particular came up with three separate circus-type catches, including a diving grab in the eighth inning that kept Colorado State from scoring.
The Rams had a chance to get back in the game in the sixth inning after Austin Pray hit a 2-out triple to the wall in centerfield, but Pray was tagged out at the plate while trying to score on a wild pitch.
“Defense wins championships,” said Aggie outfielder and club president Brad Singer. “I fully believe our defense and pitching got us to this point. Knowing that a pitcher can throw the ball and let it be hit and have a defense that solid behind them is key. Our defense was definitely MVP.”
Not to be outdone by the defense, the Utah State offense blew the game open in the sixth, as the first seven batters reached base safely and the Aggies went through the entire batting order en route to five runs on six hits for a 9-0 lead.
All nine batters in the starting lineup recorded at least one hit as Utah State collected 15 hits off of six different Colorado State pitchers. Poor pitching and throwing by the Rams aided the Aggies’ cause, as CSU committed five errors on the day.
“Our bats took off,” fifth-year senior Jake Bartholomew said. “It started with Gavin Johnson’s home run. It just boosted our confidence, and we just never stopped from there.”
Down big and desperate to make something happen, Colorado State mounted an attack in the seventh inning. A leadoff walk followed by back-to-back singles loaded the bases with nobody out, and the Rams pushed their first run across on a wild pitch.
With two runners on and one out, junior Kyle Durrant caught a line drive off the bat of Matt Kurtz, then doubled off the runner at third to crush the Rams threat and get out of the inning.
Despite the passed ball that led to the run, Durrant was dominant on the mound, allowing just two hits through the first five innings. Durrant threw 130 pitches in a complete-game performance, allowing three runs on nine hits while walking three and striking out one.
“I just love that kid,” Doyle said. “He was just so awesome. I really challenged him to light it up and finish strong. He was lights out. He was so phenomenal he deserved to be on the field when the final out was made.”
Up 9-1 entering the eighth, the Aggies poured it on. USU added five more runs on three hits and two Colorado State errors. The Rams added two more runs when Durrant gave up two runs while working through a bases-loaded jam in the ninth.
The celebration was on after Stranski made a diving catch in center field – a fitting ending to an excellent defensive performance by the Aggies.
Utah State finished the season with a 31-7 record overall, including 11-1 in conference play and a perfect 14-0 at home. The Aggies also finished the season on a 14-game winning streak en route to the conference and region championships before winning the NCBA World Series title.
“When we first started off back in the fall, we knew we had a talented bunch,” Doyle said. “We felt like we had enough talent to go all the way. We’d never been to the World Series, but we knew what our guys were like. We knew coming in that our guys wouldn’t fold and would respond to the pressure.”