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The 2023 UTSA Baseball season ended more bitter than sweet. A season that began with a home-field walk-off win ended after a disappointing and underachieving 0-2 conference tournament showing.
There were plenty of things to be proud of—individual accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. The Roadrunners found themselves nationally ranked in the Top 25 by several outputs for the first time in program history. At one point, they looked sure to eclipse forty wins for the first time.
Midway through conference play, however, a combination of injuries to impact players and perhaps tired arms on the pitching staff contributed to the disappointing finish. While under different circumstances, for the second consecutive year, the ‘Runners were on the outside looking in come regional time.
Fast forward roughly five months. The Roadrunners just wrapped up their Fall Ball season. It’s a time when guys can come back together, get to know newcomers, and start to put last season officially behind them, with a new season a short three months away.
One of the things I pondered this fall was who would step in to replace last year’s seniors. UTSA said farewell to six position players and their everyday designated hitter, all of whom made at least forty appearances. Only two players this year made at least that many appearances last year – Caleb Hill and Matt King – while utility man Isaiah Walker and outfielder Dalon Porter were the next highest with at least thirty-two.
UTSA will seek consistency and longer production out of veterans and new arms on the mound. Ulises Quiroga is the only returning pitcher who posted more than fifty innings last season. Three Roadrunners put in over forty: Ruger Riojas, Drake Smith, and Daniel Garza. Outside of Luke Malone and Simon Miller, who are both playing professional baseball now, only three returning pitchers pitched at least five innings or more. Ulises Quiroga is the only one that did it more than once.
For UTSA, the annual intrasquad World Series is the culmination of the Fall Ball season. Upperclassmen draft their teams, and the pitchers and catchers call their own signs, but make no mistake, they take it seriously. While I couldn’t catch as much of it as I initially hoped, I saw promising performances from newcomers and returning veterans. Initially, Coach Hallmark and his staff seem to have done an excellent job plugging holes and adding depth where needed.
In some ways, it seemed mid-season San Antonio form to have a rain delay and finish a game the next day.
The Blue and Orange teams would split the first two games, with the Blue team ultimately taking the series by winning game three in dominating fashion. Perhaps, as how baseball goes sometimes, none of the three games delivered a final score closer than a nine-run deficit.
Despite the lopsided scores, there were dazzling pitching performances on both sides and power hitting that will be crucial for the spring. Sixty-one of last year’s seventy-eight home runs came from seniors. After being shut out on Friday 10-0, the blue team would take the next two games while outscoring the orange team 36-12. There was good energy from both sides and while it felt strange watching teammates face off against each other, it was nice to watch College Baseball again.
Game 1 started with a bang, coming off a first-pitch solo home run from utility man and previous hitter of the week, James Taussig. They would never look back. Taussig’s 3-5 performance paired with Isaiah Walker (who also is often used as a utility player) going 2-2 with a home run helped propel the orange team to the ten runs mentioned above. Walker also reached base three times from a walk and two HBP.
The pitching was lights out, led first by senior Ryan Ward’s performance. Ward threw five scoreless while surrendering no hits and no walks while striking out five. Zach Longshore, a transfer from Texas Lutheran, closed out the run-ruled game. He would toss two scoreless innings and only give up one hit. Longshore played with fellow Roadrunners Daniel Garza (pitcher of the week), Ruger Riojas, Preston Freeman, and newcomer Hector Rodriguez this past summer in the Texas Collegiate League for the Seguin River Monsters. More on Hector later.
The blue team turned the tables for the remaining two games. They pulled themselves back in with a lopsided nine-run victory, winning the slugfest 18-9. While sophomore Riojas allowed two runs across his four innings, the dominating strikeout presence he became known for last year showed up on Saturday with six strikeouts. Riojas’ outing, paired with his pitcher of the week accolade, chalked up a productive fall for the hard-throwing righty.
Someone to keep your eye on come spring is newcomer Zane Spinn. Most recently at Sam Houston, Spinn was deemed the hitter of the game for game two. His 4-6 outing at the plate delivered three RBIs, two runs, and a home run. Newcomer Mark Henning also fared well at the plate, scoring three times and bringing in two via RBI.
While there are several new faces for the Roadrunners, the veterans also made noise this past weekend. Kingwood junior Matt King, who has been playing third base this fall, was the hitter of the game for game 3. The 18-3 commanding victory would give the blue team their second straight win and secure the series. King would go 3-5 with five RBIs. He was just a triple shy of the cycle. The game’s highlight was his towering two-run home run that hit halfway up the net. I don’t blame Matt for not wanting to leave his home runs up to the umpire’s decision. His defense was also on par with what we have come to expect the last two seasons, highlighted by bare-handed put-outs.
Caleb Hill was another veteran who was seen playing a different position this fall. The senior saw time in centerfield across the weekend. Hill seems to be picking up right where he left off. Diving catches, doubles in the gap, and the unfortunate ability to be a magnet for HBP helped contribute to the series’ win.
I want to wrap up by highlighting a few more individual performances. I mentioned Hector Rodriguez earlier. Keeping him off the bases in games two and three seemed almost impossible. Rodriguez would go 7-9 across the games, scoring seven runs and two RBIs on three extra-base hits. JUCO transfer Mark Henning had a perfect day at the plate on Sunday, going 4-4 with a home run, three RBIs, and two runs. Freshman Tanner Sever also received accolades on Sunday, going 4-5, just a home run shy of the cycle, scoring four times.
And speaking of freshmen, Idaho native and true freshman Robert Orloski dazzled on Sunday. You may remember Orloski’s name when he was selected this summer by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of the MLB draft. Orloski elected to forgo signing with the Sox and play college ball for UTSA. He would go four innings, surrender one run on two hits, with three strikeouts. What stood out from Orloski’s performance was his ability to get through an inning on a low pitch count.
It was encouraging throughout the fall to see the production UTSA put forth. It was imperfect, but baseball is not a perfect sport. I’m confident Coach Hallmark and his staff have plenty of things they want their players to work on over the next three months. What I’m most curious about is what the starting nine will look like, whether the starters can deliver some longer outings, and what the power production will look like from the plate.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more split time in the infield, at least to start the season off, to find that cohesive lineup. Defense is paramount to success, but there are some players on this roster you have to find a spot for in the lineup. The talent and tools are there for a special season. A new conference and talented programs – some familiar, some unfamiliar – await. In the meantime, Birds up and go, ‘Runners!
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