Reckling Park at Rice University. Photo credit to Patreon subscriber Ryan Squyres

UTSA drops their first AAC series of the season against Rice

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After dropping the first two games of the weekend, resulting in their first AAC series loss, the Roadrunners battled late and won Sunday to prevent being swept by the Rice Owls. In each game, UTSA fell behind early while continuing to fight late. They scored nine runs in the eighth inning or later and reminded their opponent never to count them out entirely. While the result is a 1-2 series loss and now two games back from nationally-ranked ECU, there is still plenty to play for. UTSA will look to win the midweek rematch against Texas State at the Bird Bath before hosting the quietly dangerous Shockers from Wichita State. 

The Good…

While the pitching was not the best, there were some shining individual performances. Rice only scored three runs after the fourth inning across the weekend. Of course, they did most of their damage early and were still rewarded with a series win. Zach Longshore, Ruger Riojas, Daniel Garza, Zach Royse, and Fischer Kingsbery produced thirteen combined innings of work and only allowed three earned runs. This kept things at bay for two of the games while even keeping the deficit somewhat within reach during Saturday’s loss.  

Speaking of pitching, Uli Quiroga had another quality outing. Through seven innings of work in the Sunday game, the only major blemish was a two-out, two-run home run in the third. Quiroga matched a career-high eight strikeouts while limiting action on the basepaths, which gave time for the Roadrunner bats to wake up finally. Since fully returning to the starting rotation, Uli has been a staple for Sunday consistency. UTSA will undoubtedly lean on his upward momentum the rest of the way. 

I touched on this in the introduction, but UTSA did not go down without a fight across the weekend. After the Roadrunners suffered a heartbreaking walk-off loss Friday night and a lopsided loss on Saturday, leaving Houston with a win was crucial. Those in attendance and watching from home could feel the momentum turn late in the series finale. After UTSA narrowly missed two home runs Friday night, right fielder James Taussig found just enough power on Sunday for a two-run home run that scraped the top of the right field wall. The go-ahead homer would be enough for senior Fischer Kingsbery to work with, securing the save. 

The Not So Good… 

Across the weekend series, Rice scored twenty runs, thirteen of which came with two outs. The pitching staff also surrendered three two-out, two-run home runs. This stat line is something UTSA has struggled with throughout the season. For a weekend series or a midweek game, it can take the wind out of your sails; in a conference tournament, it can be the nail in the coffin. While the Roadrunners have enjoyed their share of escaped jams, they still need to find more consistency with ending innings earlier. 

Another area that has been concerning at times is the defensive play. While the box score may be clean from an error standpoint, there were a few frustrating moments that came back to bite the ‘Runners in a big way. On Friday night, a ball four skipped away from Broc Parmer, and the Owl runner took second before a ground ball single gave Rice a crucial insurance run. After a full nine innings, the box score was 8-8. In the 10th, it seemed Isaiah Walker got a late jump and came in too fast, which caused the pop fly to fall in. Motley’s speed gave Rice a runner on 3rd with one out. They would win the game on the next batter with a safety squeeze bunt. 

The first Rice batter of the game on Saturday hit a chopper to Hector Rodriguez at second base. While it wasn’t the most routine angle, it seemed that Rodriguez had time to zip a throw over to Mark Henning but instead underhand tossed it. The infield single would keep an out off the board. Later in the inning, the fielder’s choice was just the second out instead of the third. Rice would go on to score their first five runs on a walk, single, and three-run home run. 

After an already crooked number in the first, two UTSA passed balls allowed two runs to score in the second. With the series of events that followed, one of those likely scores regardless. This is not the first time UTSA has allowed runners to advance or score on wild pitches or passed balls. It is a mistake that comes with the territory in college baseball, but it has hurt UTSA at critical points this season. 

Before the weekend, UTSA had not hit a home run since the Sunday game of the Memphis series. They broke that drought, hitting one on Saturday and the previously mentioned clutch home run on Sunday. The Roadrunners were still outnumbered in this category by a Rice team that had seventeen fewer home runs than UTSA entering the weekend. The Owls hit five home runs to UTSA’s two. Perhaps for Rice, it was just the fact that they were due, as it was either the first or second homer of the year for three of the five players who went yard for the Owls. 

The times UTSA leaves double-digit runners on will tell you how difficult it can be to score runs without extra-base hits. The Roadrunners need to find a way to deliver more doubles and home runs in the final month of the regular season.

Looking Ahead…

UTSA has two midweek games left this regular season and both are at home. The first is this Tuesday, as the I-35 rival Texas State visits the Bird Bath. You may remember the showdown in San Marcos last month. It was a 14-13 slugfest that featured a one-hour-plus first inning. 

Combined, there were seven home runs in the game, two of which were Bobcat grand slams by Daylan Pena. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven runs were scored in the first three and a half innings. While Texas State did not score after the third, and UTSA put up two runs each in the eighth and ninth inning, they would come up just short of an incredible comeback. 

Last year, this matchup featured the highest-attended game at the Bird Bath, with just under 1,200 fans. It was a barn-burner that saw a controversial no-home run call down the left field foul pole, and Coach Hallmark would be tossed late in the game. 

This game will certainly have its fireworks. It is perhaps one of the most circled non-conference games by both fans and players. The roughly sixty-minute drive down I-35 (depending on traffic) makes it a good one for the opposing fan base to attend. 

While UTSA has found some more consistency over the last six weeks, that hasn’t been the case for Texas State. Sitting at 22-23 overall, the Bobcats are 8-13 in conference play. You could argue that the Sun Belt is a more challenging conference than the American this season. Texas State, though, has gone 5-6 over its last eleven games. It will likely be coming into Tuesday wanting 1) bragging rights over UTSA for the year and 2) momentum going into its own conference tournament. 

First pitch is scheduled for 6:00 PM. If you are in the area and free, come out to the Bird Bath for a rocking and rolling environment and game. As has been the case for almost every home game this season, ESPN+ is also an option for watching the game. 

I’ll be back on the podcast wavelengths later this week to recap the game, and I will have a friend of the podcast, Cory Davis, as my guest. 

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