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Despite UTSA dropping their second consecutive Tuesday game, the Roadrunners bounced back nicely this weekend, defeating Western Kentucky in all three games. UTSA now has a very nice record of 23-6 and 8-1 in conference play to remain atop the standings. The first two games of this weekend’s series featured exciting, nerve-wracking top of the ninth innings where the boys hung on to one-run leads for wins. Sunday provided some breathing room as the Roadrunners took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third and never looked back, eventually winning 7-2. After wrapping up a 3-1 slate across the week, UTSA swept their third series and second conference series of the season. They have not lost a series yet, have only given up double digits once, and their largest defeat is six runs.
WHAT I FELT GOOD ABOUT…
Pitching and Defense – This will be mentioned in the “Game Ball” section, so I won’t expound too much here. After giving up eight runs to the Islanders and getting outscored by their opponents the week before, it was nice to see great performances in the top half of the innings this weekend. There were some blemishes, of course, but overall a lot to feel good about. The two combined in various ways to hold the Hilltoppers to eight runs across the three games. The pitching staff only walked six and none on Sunday. Daniel Garza’s 4.2 innings were mixed in on Sunday, two runs, one earned, five hits, one strikeout, and no walks. There were some errors by the defense, but nothing that affected the outcome of the game, and the great plays outweighed the bad plays.
Winning Tight Games – I briefly touched on Friday and Saturday’s close games. Similar to above, more mention of this will be in the “Game Ball” section. The box score never tells the whole story. Looking at it, though, WKU outhit UTSA in both games. The error category was also three for UTSA and zero for WKU. It is important to note that UTSA fixed both of those stats for Sunday, outhitting WKU 15-7, and had zero errors to the Hilltoppers one. Roadrunners still found ways to win and did what they needed to do. I’m curious to see how WKU does the rest of conference play. UTSA is a better team, in my opinion, and that helped them come away with those wins. There is also a grittiness with this team that just won’t quit. Hopefully, that will continue the rest of the way.
Runners Rising – No, this is not about the games this weekend. But there was baseball news this weekend concerning The Runners Rising Project. The NIL dedicated fund added five athletes this weekend, including three UTSA Baseball players. As official athletes, Matt King, Simon Miller, and Antonio Valdez were introduced. I believe Luke Malone is also still an athlete for them. Stay tuned for a few weeks when “Around the Bird Bath” does something more specific regarding Runners Rising. Still, it is encouraging to see these athletes continue to have opportunities to represent UTSA in various ways and be recognized for their hard work.
WHAT I DIDN’T FEEL GOOD ABOUT…
Losing The Situational Game – Two moments on Friday stuck out to me where UTSA “lost” the situational game. I understand why both decisions were made, but I don’t know if they were necessary. Of course, it is much easier to say that when it doesn’t work out. The first came in the fourth inning when UTSA chose to walk Liebert intentionally and have 1st and 3rd with two outs. Malone has got that ground ball plenty of times, and this situation creates two spots for a force out. Liebert steals, however. WKU didn’t have the double steal, and Leonett singled to drive in two runs and tie the game. Again, much easier to criticize after the fact, but I would have liked to force Liebert to come through and see what happened. The second was a bunt attempt by Sirdashney, where WKU got the lead runner at third on the fielder’s choice. I understand this one too. At this point, and in the UTRGV game, he hadn’t recorded a hit. There is also the chance that the pitcher makes a bad throw and run scores while everyone else is still safe. I would have liked to see Sirdashney get the opportunity to make a big hit. Baseball is that type of game, though, and there will be times this season (there already have been) when it will go UTSA’s way.
Umpires – I don’t like to do this, primarily because while I understand that it is their job, it is tough for several reasons. I also think that often as fans, we can be harder on umpires with our own bias. However, this weekend, it seemed both teams had concerns with the umpires’ performance. I’m not just talking balls and strikes. Instead, questionable calls caused momentum swings and could have led to even bigger innings for both UTSA and WKU. I would like to see the umpires do better. I recognize it most likely is not their day job. But it might not have been your day when both teams are upset at multiple points on the weekend.
Braylon Owens – Owens made his first appearance of the season on Tuesday, entering the game after the Islanders had just put a four spot on the board the previous inning and had increased their lead to five runs. The Sophomore from Elgin, TX, pitched two scoreless innings of relief and helped keep the game within reach. He also gave up no hits, one walk, and struck out two. Owens also appeared late Sunday afternoon for the final two innings. It was another scoreless outing with two hits, no walks, and three strikeouts, all looking. The Roadrunners have plenty of depth in the pitching category, so it will be interesting to see how often Owens gets the ball the rest of the season. It was undoubtedly two good outings, and if he continues to make the most of his opportunity, he might be called upon more in the midweek games.
Tye Odom – It looks like Odom and Walker will be the main two guys rotating in at RF. There is still Garret Brooks (RS FR) and transfer Dalton Porter (JR). Porter has seen most of his time come from pinch-running or hitting having the left-handed bat, but Walker and Odom have had most of the at-bats. Odom had his first home run of the season in the 5thinning on Tuesday to put UTSA on the board and begin to trim the Islanders’ lead. It looked like a shot off the bat, and the play-by-play initially thought it was foul, but a home run, nonetheless. Odom was playing LF Tuesday night, in for Hill but continues to get opportunities both in the field and at bat in his freshmen campaign. This home run created some energy – while ultimately not enough – into the UTSA offense when they needed it.
Luke Malone – A week after having to exit his start against Rice in the sixth inning, when a line drive hit him in the right shoulder and forehead region, Malone returned to the mound with a great outing. The Round Rock Senior put up seven innings where he gave up two runs on six hits, one walk (intentional), and struck out eight, with perhaps the most pivotal two coming in the second inning. WKU hit Malone hard a couple of times. After a one-out triple in the top of the second, he settled in and struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning. I already mentioned the intentional walk situation, but seeing him continue to put up quality starts is encouraging.
Simon Miller – With a one-run game, Miller got the call in the eighth for the assumed two-inning save attempt. For a moment, it looked like he might have a little more insurance for the ninth, but one run is where the lead would stay. The highlight of the no runs, two hits, one walk, and three strike-out outing was the top of the ninth. WKU thought the game would be headed to the bottom half with at least a tie game after LF Kirk Liebert hit one in the RC gap for his eighth double of the season. I can’t remember if Coach Hallmark made a mound visit after the double or the sac fly that Liebert advanced to third on, but one was made to discuss some situational decision-making and give Miller a chance to re-group. With King playing slightly in, to keep Liebert honest on a ground ball, he made a great snag on a hop to get the runner at first. Miller then finished it, striking out the final batter for an exciting 21st-team win.
Sammy Diaz – What turned out to be the difference maker was a solo home run over “405” paint on the batter’s eye that gave the Roadrunners a 3-2 lead which would also be the final score. It also created rumblings remembering a Colorado moonshot Diaz hit in a “long-ball” event that Jerry Briggs expanded on. Diaz, who has earned the catchy nickname “Slammy Diaz,” picked up Saturday afternoon with another solo home run. This one was to LF and the game’s first run for UTSA instead of the final one. Diaz now has four home runs on the season.
Josh Killeen – Killeen’s weekend saw him behind the plate and bat leadoff in all three games. He had key moments both on the defensive side of the ball and while at bat. On Friday night, he had a double and one walk while using his speed to score from third base on a sacrifice fly for the game’s first run. Killeen is now tied for third on the team with six doubles. He also used his arm and quickness to catch a Hilltopper stealing second base to end the seventh. The other big moment for Killeen’s weekend came Saturday afternoon when he delivered a two-out, two-run single in the fourth inning that gave the Roadrunners a 4-2 lead. While he didn’t record a hit on Sunday, Killeen made several key stops behind the plate.
Daniel Shafer – UTSA went to the bullpen early on Saturday when Uli Quiroga was pulled after two and third innings. Ruger Riojas entered first, but the early switch meant Shafer was called upon with two outs in the fifth. Shafer pitched three full innings of relief, giving up one run (Riojas was responsible for the runner) on one hit, one walk, and three strikeouts. It looked like Shafer would get the 3.1-inning save, but Coach Hallmark brought Simon Miller in to record the final out. It was Miller’s second save of the weekend.
Shane Sirdashney – Sirdashney put to bed his hitting slump in a big way on Sunday. The senior went four for five, including a solo home run that started a three-run fifth inning that put the Roadrunners on top for good. It was almost the home run that wasn’t as “Dash” had a 3-0 count, and it appeared to many of the UTSA faithful and Coach Hallmark ball four was missed. Sirdashney capitalized on the call and hit the next pitch over the RC wall. Sirdashney also made up for a misplayed fly ball that led to a leadoff double. The next batter also hit a fly ball to CF; this time, Sirdashney caught the ball and made a great throw to Matt King, who executed the relay flawlessly to get the runner tagging from second. The inning ended on the next at-bat, stopping WKU’s momentum and preserving UTSA’s lead.
@ UIW Tuesday, April 4th @ 6:30 PM (ESPN+)
Like last week, when we looked ahead to the game at Corpus Christi game, I won’t do my typical breakdown looking at the Cardinal’s 2022 season since the Roadrunners have already played them once. We will check in to see how their season has gone since they came to the Bird Bath a little over a month ago. There are also a few reasons why fans should circle this game if you have the time Tuesday night to make it out to Sullivan field. UIW is where Coach Hallmark and Aguayo were before coming across town to UTSA. Antonio Valdez and Taylor Smith began their college time playing for Coach Hallmark there. The two team’s first matchup this season featured a tight 2-1 game where UTSA came out on top. The eventual winning run was Valdez stealing home safely on a double steal despite the disagreement by both the UIW coaches and fans. So, I will go out on a whim and say UIW wants this one.
Since that exciting but narrow loss to UTSA, the Cardinals have gone 11-7 and have a season record of 14-13 with a conference record of 4-2. They lost two Texas A&M – College Station, were swept by mutual opponent Tarleton, and took the series against Houston Christian, whom UTSA will play at the end of April. UIW is coming off a weekend series where they beat Southeastern Louisiana two games to one.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Micah Berens (P) – Berens started the game against UTSA last month and pitched 6.1 innings giving up one run – none earned – on three hits, five walks, and three strikeouts. On the one hand, I could see Berens not getting the start since the Roadrunners have already seen him once, but also clearly fared well against them. Berens has an average WHIP of 1.30. However, his K:BB ratio is only 1.37, striking out fifteen on the year but walking eleven.
Steve Hayward (P) – Depending on how UIW wants to approach the pitching situation, Hayward is another who could get the start. He has pitched 22.1 innings in nine appearances with an ERA of 1.21. While Hayward hasn’t started any games, I could see him come out of the pen if he is fresh. Hayward has struck out thirty-six and walked eight in his 22.1 innings. That is good for a 4.48 K:BB ratio; his BABIP is .171.
Wilson Ehrhardt (RF) – Ehrhardt hit a leadoff home run in the game against UTSA. It was the only major blemish on Ryan Ward’s outing, and it was the only run surrendered by the trio of Ward, Riojas, and Miller, who each pitched three complete innings. The right fielder is second on the team in home runs (6). He has a somewhat balanced OBP and SLG to produce a nice OPS of .896.
Alec Carr (1B) – While Carr went hitless in last month’s game, he has an OPS over one thousand and leads the team in home runs (7), and is second in RBIs (31). He has struck out twenty-six times.
While this Tuesday is an away game, it is convenient for the players and fans. While I am not looking forward to driving across town to UIW at 5:30 on a San Antonio Tuesday, having a close, away game to support the ‘Runners in person will be nice. Here is to hoping they can have the same production and result as this weekend and get back in the win column for the Tuesday slate.
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