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The Roadrunners responded to their worst defeat of the season with a sweep over the Rice Owls this weekend. Rice is the only conference team that UTSA had two series against in the regular season. Like the first time, two of the three games were tightly contested, with one five-run differential game. This time, the difference was the ‘Runners being on the right side (or left in terms of the score column) of that five-run margin. UTSA will now have a well-deserved break from the midweek game. It might be the best time for an extra day of rest, as the final three home games of the regular season come against conference leaders Dallas Baptist University. UTSA also looks to have some guys get healthy, hopefully. There were a lot of good performances and a lot to talk about from this weekend against Rice.
WHAT I FELT GOOD ABOUT…
Finding a way – One thing evident about this team is that they don’t give up. Last week I opened with how different the recap would be based on two come-back wins. The Roadrunners delivered more of the same this week, although they got the rallies going a little earlier, at least. The first two games against Rice saw UTSA fall behind early, with a four-run and five-run deficit on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Both games featured four-run innings by the Roadrunners to initiate the comeback. While falling behind early hasn’t been ideal, the team continues to battle and grit out wins. This is a great tool to have come post-season time. Although, hopefully, the fans don’t have to experience it every game. I might need to check my resting heart rate during these games.
Bullpen Help – While Rice got to the UTSA pitchers early this weekend, the relief helped keep the game within reach while UTSA mounted their comebacks. In eight innings of work, spread across four appearances; the Roadrunner bullpen shut down the Rice production. They allowed two runs on six hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts. Sunday’s game started with the bullpen. While it wasn’t Uli Quiroga’s best outing (he entered in the third), the other three relievers only surrendered one run in 7.2 innings. Overall, I would still like to see the middle relievers make some improvements, but this weekend they were, for the most part, locked in.
Heads Up Baserunning – Something that UTSA does well and has helped them throughout this season is how they run the bases. They always seem to hustle out of the box and rely on their baseball IQ to be aggressive on the basepaths. This rendered itself a few times over the weekend. What stood out specifically was a heads-up play by Antonio Valdez and a double steal by Leyton Barry and Matt King on Saturday. Valdez was committed to reaching second on a hard-hit ball to RF in the 6th inning. This caused the Rice RF to attempt a throw to 2B. King might have scored regardless; however, the errant throw to 2B helped him score uncontested. Perhaps more crucial because of the score at the time was the double steal. Barry hesitated enough for the throw down to second, and King had just enough time to score even with the throwback home. The situational call got UTSA a much-needed run to start trimming the deficit. The Roadrunners also performed a successful double steal on Sunday early to tie the game at one.
Home Run Ball – While UTSA lost the overall home run count this week, they hit several of their own at crucial points across the weekend. Including Sammy Diaz’s solo shot on Tuesday, the Roadrunners combined for seven home runs, with the final one of the weekend being a Grand Slam off the bat of Leyton Barry. Barry’s grand slam not only capped off a six-run sixth inning for UTSA, but it also helped put the series finale out of reach for Rice. The ball seemed to be flying this weekend. I’m glad UTSA could make some loud noise with their bats. At least three of the home runs were no doubters.
Defense up the middle – I will mention some defensive concerns in a moment. I wanted to recognize Barry and King’s defense up the middle this weekend. The pair made several put-outs, some of which were web-gem caliber plays. Neither of the two team errors this weekend was credited to the pair. It seems they have cleaned up some of the miscommunication that fans saw earlier in the season.
WHAT I DIDN’T FEEL GOOD ABOUT…
Tuesday – Tuesday’s game was rough. Sam Houston hit UTSA hard from start to finish, and they hit the ball far. It was by far the Roadrunner’s largest defeat of the season, and although UTSA has produced several comebacks this season, this one seemed over early. We will talk about it, acknowledge it, and then close the book on it. Sam Houston is a good team, and they came into San Antonio playing good baseball. UTSA has a big #22 on its chest (at the time of writing) that motivates opposing teams. The Bearcats scored eighteen runs on as many hits and held the ‘Runners to two runs on ten hits. Five of the six innings that Sam Houston scored runs were multi-run innings. The Bearcats hit five home runs, three of which came on two-outs, and scored three. I am not trying to take anything away from Sam Houston by saying this, but Tuesday was just one of those nights the romantic game of baseball offers; it just was on the side of the wrong team.
Home Run Ball – Despite what I mentioned above regarding UTSA’s home runs this weekend, the UTSA pitching staff gave up plenty of their own this week. Including the five on Tuesday from Sam Houston, Rice hit seven of their own. This means the ‘Runners gave up twelve home runs in four games. While it’s not the end of the world (the ball is flying over the fence far more this season across all of Division I baseball), it is certainly not ideal. Both teams this weekend had long outs and warning track fly balls. It might have just been a good weekend for the home run ball.
Positioning miscues – I am not bypassing the fact that the UTSA pitchers who started the three games combined for eleven earned runs in twelve innings of work this weekend. I didn’t want to be a broken record because I touched on it above. A few times this weekend, both the outfield and infield had positioning miscues. Most of this can be chalked up to UTSA being a little banged up and having a few guys playing a position different than their primary one. It needs to be cleaned up going into the regular season’s final weeks and entering tournament play. The next few teams are no slouches, and the defense needs to be polished, not giving them anything extra.
Ryan Beaird – The RHP made two appearances this weekend. He pitched a scoreless inning of relief on Friday night, which included working out of a jam and receiving the win. He then entered Sunday afternoon with two runners on to get out of the jam and pitch 1.1 innings while only allowing one hit and closing out the sweep for UTSA. Ryan was also the only UTSA pitcher who did not give up any runs in Tuesday’s loss. He seems to be finding his grove moving into the final weeks of the regular season.
Daniel Garza – Garza entered Saturday with UTSA down one entering the fifth inning. He would go three innings, giving up no runs, on no hits, no walks, and striking out two. I was surprised he wasn’t given a fourth inning of relief, especially since he was only at thirty-four pitches. UTSA had a three-run lead, and there may have been some concern over the Rice lineup seeing Garza a second time (entirely my opinion, and I’m likely way off). Garza earned his fifth win of the season with the performance.
Simon Miller – Miller earned save number ten and eleven this weekend. He pitched two innings of relief in both outings while logging three total strikeouts. The Owls did get to him on Saturday with a two-run home run in the eighth. Miller settled in for the ninth and benefited from a bottom-of-the-eighth insurance run when Barry drove in Valdez from third. Simon Miller continues to have his best full season of work from the mound.
Caleb Hill – The left fielder had himself quite the weekend. Hill went 3-5 with an RBI and a home run shy of the cycle on Friday, 3-4 on Saturday with three RBIs and a home run, and 1-4 with a solo home run on Sunday. Hill is fourth on the team in RBIs with thirty-eight. His production has been a considerable addition this season.
Leyton Barry – The senior second baseman had several critical moments in the field and at the plate. Barry’s lone hit on Sunday was a big one, which resulted in a grand slam in the sixth inning. I already mentioned the sac-fly insurance run on Saturday. While he didn’t log a hit in Friday’s matchup, he walked and scored a run.
Matt King – Like Barry, King had crucial plays in the field and at the plate this weekend. I mentioned that King scored twice on double-steal plays. His two-run single tied the game at seven (UTSA would take the lead in the same half-inning). On Sunday, he also legged out a triple in the bottom of the third, scoring Caleb Hill and capping off a four-run inning.
Antonio Valdez – It appeared that UTSA would have a comfortable start-to-finish win on Sunday. Valdez helped start that feeling with a three-run homer to left-center in the third inning on Sunday. I believe that brings his RBIs on the season to sixty-one and eleven homers. The third baseman had two RBIs on Friday with a third-inning single. Like Hill, Valdez was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, with his performance coming on Saturday going 3-3, with one walk and one RBI Day.
GAME BALL (HONORABLE MENTION)
I do want to mention Aiden Baumann briefly. The freshman had his first two college hits as a Roadrunner on Tuesday night. Baumann continues to get settled in, as he didn’t get his first start or appearance until Sunday against UAB. The New Braunfels outfielder seems to have some good tools at the plate. We will see how much more time he logs this season, and hopefully, the hitting will continue as he gets more comfortable.
The Roadrunners will be a half-game back in the conference standings going into this weekend’s series against DBU. It is the final regular season home games of the season. With DBU’s RPI where it is, UTSA could make a considerable jump themselves. DBU is in first at 20-4, and UTSA is right behind them at 19-4. Winning the series would put UTSA in the driver’s seat to be the Conference USA regular season champions. If you need any more push to attend one or all of the games this weekend, the Roadrunners are three wins away from tying a program-best, thirty-nine-win season. The action kicks off Friday night at the Bird Bath.
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