With two weeks left before conference tournament play commences, local and area NCAA Division I baseball teams will need to start winning to create momentum for championship runs. Here’s the breakdown:
Summary: In Conference USA, if you take your eye off the ball, you can get smacked in the nose. UTSA can’t afford to let that happen this week. The fifth-place Roadrunners (26-20, 12-11) are in good position to make the eight-team C-USA tournament. But if they have any postseason championship aspirations, they need win a road series this weekend against the last-place Old Dominion Monarchs (14-31, 6-17) and then follow suit next week against Charlotte (27-20, 13-11) at home.
Summary: Incarnate Word (29-20, 13-11) is bouncing back in baseball at just the right time. Eligible to play in the Southland Conference tournament after a four-year wait in transition from NCAA Division II, the Cardinals are tied for fifth with a top-eight finish necessary to extend the season. UIW plays at Texas A&M Corpus Christi (24-26, 8-16) this weekend before hosting powerful Sam Houston State (33-16, 19-5) next week. Sam Houston is the SLC’s No. 1 program.
Summary: It’s been a struggle lately for the Texas State Bobcats, who have lost five of their last six. But they remain in position to reach the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Texas State (23-24-1, 11-13) hosts Louisiana (28-21, 14-10) this weekend. The Bobcats will finish on the road against UT-Arlington (21-27, 11-13).
On Wayne Graham’s last trip to San Antonio as coach of the Rice Owls, his team won two out of three from UTSA and kept hope alive for a shot at the postseason.
But after the Owls shut down the home team twice on Saturday, the Roadrunners returned the favor on Sunday, courtesy of a masterful performance from pitcher Chance Kirby.
Kirby pitched into the eighth inning and struck out a career-high 13 in UTSA’s 7-0 victory.
“UT-San Antonio has a fine baseball team,” Graham said. “Winning two out of three from them here is a big deal. The kid’s pitching performance today was really that good. There’s no joke. He really pitched well.”
Baseball coaching legend Wayne Graham of the Rice Owls talks to home plate umpire Joe Brown after the fourth inning.
Any series against the Graham-coached Owls is always a highlight on the Roadrunners’ home schedule.
But this one took on added significance on April 25, when the 82-year-old, College Baseball Hall of Famer announced that this season would be his last at Rice.
Based on what he had been told by a Rice administrator, Graham said his contract would not be extended and that his 27-year tenure as coach of the Owls would be coming to an end.
Discussing the impending end of an era, UTSA coach Jason Marshall said Graham’s legacy is secure in baseball circles.
“You talk about the respect of his peers, when he sits in a room talking baseball, you just sit there and shut your mouth and listen,” Marshall said. “He is just a great baseball coach and great baseball mind (who) has always gotten the most out of his players.”
Chance Kirby struck out a career-high 13 Sunday as UTSA shut out the Rice Owls, 7-0.
Since Graham took charge in 1992, Rice has fared well on state, regional and national levels, compiling a record of 1,167-523.
Starting in 1995, the Owls embarked on a string of 23 straight NCAA tournaments, the third-longest streak in the nation behind Florida State (40) and Cal State-Fullerton (26).
In that time, they’ve played in seven College World Series, winning the 2003 national title along the way.
In the past two seasons, however, Rice’s dominance has started to fade.
Last year, the Owls struggled to a 13-25 start, before a late surge propelled them into the C-USA tournament and, ultimately, to the title at Biloxi, Miss.
This year, Rice (20-26-2) still has work to do even to qualify for the C-USA’s postseason event in Biloxi.
The Owls trail the UAB Blazers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, both tied for eighth in the conference standings.
If the tournament started today, UAB and Western Kentucky (both 11-13) would have the edge over ninth-place Rice (9-13-2).
Fortunately for Graham, two weeks remain on the schedule, and he gets to play UAB at home next weekend before finishing at FIU.
UTSA’s Jonathan Tapia scores from third, sliding into home to beat a throw from the outfield on Ben Brookover’s second-inning sacrifice fly.
Graham, from Yoakum, turned into a solid 1950s-era amateur ball player at Houston Reagan and at the University of Texas.
He later played third base and outfield in the pros, including 10 games for the Gene Mauch-managed Philadelphia Phillies in 1963 and 20 more in ’64 for the New York Mets, under Casey Stengel.
Graham said he learned a lot in a short time under Stengel.
“I didn’t dare sit next to him on the bench–and that’s what I occupied with the Mets was the bench,” he said during his induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. “But I was close enough to hear everything …
“He ran a commentary on the game as you went, especially on how the pitcher was pitching to our hitters, and I have grown to think that is pretty important.”
Graham didn’t get all the answers from Stengel.
He said he is struggling with the idea that he no longer will be coaching.
At the same time, Graham said he won’t allow his emotions to affect his work at the Owls prepare for the last two weeks.
“It’s rough off the field,” he said. “It’s not rough on the field. I’ve always come to the ball park with complete absorption in the game. I don’t have any choice. I couldn’t do it any other way.”
Having coached since the early 1970s, when he started at Houston Scarborough High School, Graham is philosophical about moving on.
“All things come to and end, unfortunately,” he said. “(But) I don’t know many people that coach that long. I’ve had 47 years in the game. Loved it.
“You know, I’m sort of like (former Texas football coach Darrell) Royal. He said the losses hurt a lot. Well, they do hurt. But I’m still able to recover. This has been a really rough year.”
Brookover sparked a two-run first inning for the Roadrunners with an opposite-field single to right.
The surging UTSA Roadrunners will return home this week to play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Rice after winning a key weekend series on the road against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
UTSA hosts A&M-Corpus Christi in non-conference on Tuesday before greeting Rice in a three-game set in Conference USA starting on Friday.
Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic and UTSA are 1-2-3-4 in the C-USA standings heading into the final three weeks.
The Roadrunners (24-18, 11-9 C-USA) bashed Blue Raiders pitching for 10 runs on 11 hits in the final three innings Sunday at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, rallying from a two-run deficit to claim a 13-7 victory.
As a result, UTSA won the series two games to one. It was the second C-USA series victory in the past two weeks after the Roadrunners took two of three at home last week against FIU.
UTSA has also won seven of its last nine overall.
Ben Brookover produced three hits and three RBI for the Roadrunners. He ignited a four-run rally in the seventh with a run-scoring triple.
Bryan Arias and Ryan Stacy also enjoyed solid days at the plate with two hits and two RBIs apiece.
Junior pitcher Palmer Wenzel recorded some momentum-changing outs in the middle of the game for the Roadrunners.
After the Blue Raiders had scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth for a 5-3 lead, he entered the game with two out and retired the only batter he faced on a ground ball, leaving a runner stranded.
In the fifth, Wenzel yielded two hits to start the inning. In response, UTSA right fielder Dylan Rock threw out a runner at third to keep Middle Tennessee in check.
After issuing a walk to put runners at first and second, Wenzel struck out Blake Benefield and coaxed Aaron Antonini into a fly ball, ending the threat.
Wenzel, a newcomer this season after transferring from McLennan Community College, retired three straight in the sixth to set the stage for the late-inning fireworks from the UTSA offense.
The Blue Raiders stunned the Roadrunners 12-5 in the series opener last Friday.
But UTSA responded with an 11-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.
The Roadrunners stroked a combined 29 hits off Blue Raiders pitching in the past two days.
UTSA closes the regular season with series against Rice, at Old Dominion and at home again against Charlotte.
The top eight teams in the conference will pay the C-USA tournament at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi. Tournament dates are set for May 23-27.
Justin Anderson, making his major league debut, pitched a scoreless eighth inning Monday night in the Los Angeles Angels’ 2-0 victory over the world champion Houston Astros.
After retiring the first two batters he faced, the former right-handed pitcher for the UTSA Roadrunners yielded singles to George Springer and Jose Altuve.
Next, Anderson faced Carlos Correa with runners at first and third.
But with the Astros’ home crowd in Houston roaring, he didn’t flinch, striking out Correa on a slider to preserve his team’s two-run lead.
A television replay showed a group of friends and fans cheering with enthusiasm as Anderson, a Houston native, walked off the field.
It was the end of a wild day for Anderson, who was called up to the majors from Triple A on Sunday.
Before the Angels-Astros game, he told the Orange County Register that he “broke down” when he got the news of his promotion.
In the next 24 hours, his life was turned upside down, as family and friends touched base to offer congratulations.
“So far it’s been pretty crazy,” Anderson told Jeff Fletcher of the Register. “My phone is blowing up.”
Best Justin Anderson quote: "The Dome was a special place. Growing up as a youngster I went to a lot of games in the Dome and then here at Enron, and Astros Field, and now it's Minute Maid." GUYS HE REMEMBERS THE THREE MONTHS THIS PLACE WAS NAMED ASTROS FIELD
The former Houston schoolboy, who pitched at UTSA from 2012-14, is the second former Roadrunners player to make it to the major leagues.
He follows catcher and former UTSA teammate John Bormann, who made it up for one game with the Pittsburgh Pirates last April.
“I am just proud of Justin and his accomplishment,” UTSA coach Jason Marshall said in a text. “It’s a boyhood dream that so many young guys have but so few ever realize it.”
Anderson, 25, was selected on the 14th round of the 2014 draft out of UTSA.
He started the 2017 season at Inland Empire of the Class A California League and moved up later to the Mobile BayBears, a Class AA team in the Southern League.
This spring, he started at Mobile and recently was pulled up to the Triple-A, Pacific Coast League Salt Lake Bees.
In three appearances for Salt Lake, the 6-3, 220-pound right-hander didn’t allow a run or a hit in five innings over three games.
He struck out six and walked one.
“We’ve seen him for a number of years,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Register. “The reason he’s here is not so much us seeing him, but the adjustments he’s made, using the experience to improve.
“Right now he’s made some big strides, from spring training to now.”
Clearly, it was a moment to savor for Anderson, who was a sophomore in 2013, when Marshall led the Roadrunners to the NCAA tournament in his first year as head coach.
“Justin has continued to make strides through the Angels’ organization, and to be afforded a debut in his hometown and in front of his parents, extended family and friends, I’m sure it’s a memory of a lifetime for him,” the coach said.
Anderson came out of Houston St. Pius X High School and played his first season at UTSA in 2012, when he finished 3-2 in 11 appearances.
He was 0-1 in limited duty in 2013. But by the next season, he started to attract attention, fashioning a 4-5 record with a 2.92 ERA.
Anderson’s call up comes three days before the NFL Draft, when defensive end Marcus Davenport from UTSA is expected to be selected, potentially in the first round.
“It’s one of the most important markers in the life of a college baseball program to have young men reach the pinnacle of the sport,” Marshall said. “As UTSA grows and the athletic programs reach new heights, you are going to see more and more of our athletes play on the big stage.
“For Justin to reach the big leagues just goes to show that the road can start in San Antonio at UTSA, and Major League Baseball is attainable for aspiring young players.”
Relief ace Derek Craft struck out five in two and a third innings to earn the victory for the Roadrunners. (Photo by Jerry Briggs)
Just call them drama kings for a day.
Leading by three runs on Sunday afternoon, the UTSA Roadrunners allowed the FIU Golden Panthers to score once in the seventh and twice in the eighth to tie the score.
And then, just as it seemed that the Panthers might steal another Conference USA baseball victory in San Antonio, relief pitching ace Derek Craft put a stop it.
Craft struck out five in two-plus innings of scoreless relief, setting the stage for a two-out, 10th-inning rally and a 5-4 win for the Roadrunners.
After Dylan Rock’s single scored Ben Brookover from third, UTSA had emerged with two victories in the three-game series and renewed hope for a strong finish to the season.
UTSA players stormed the field after Rock’s RBI single to left, celebrating a win that boosted the Roadrunners (21-17 overall, 9-8 in conference) into fourth place in the C-USA standings.
“The later we get in the season, any victories are good victories, especially as you inch your way toward the conference tournament,” UTSA coach Jason Marshall said. “But the margins in our league are so slim. From top to bottom, pretty much anybody can beat anybody on a given day.
“Just proud of our resiliency to, one, give up the lead but, two, just hang tough and continue to get outs. Derek Craft just kind of hung in there, threw some zeroes up and gave us a chance to get to that moment.
“And then just proud of Dylan Rock, a freshman, for stepping in there and getting the big hit.”
UTSA’s Ben Brookover executes a head-first slide into third base with a second-inning triple. (Photo by Jerry Briggs)
With two out in the bottom of the 10th and nobody on, Brookover stepped to the plate for the Roadrunners.
Marshall, in the third-base coach’s box, shouted some encouragement at the senior from Reagan: “Get us a double, Ben.”
Brookover promptly obliged by powering a 2-1 fast ball from Tyler Myrick to the base of the fence in center field.
As he pulled into second standing up, UTSA was in business.
With the game on the line and Rock at the plate, a wild pitch from Myrick skipped to the back-stop, allowing Brookover to take third.
At that point, Rock slapped a 2-2 fastball into left field with some top-spin, bringing Brookover home for the winner.
“Coming into today, we knew it was kind of a must win,” said Brookover, who had two doubles and a triple. “We knew that if we won, we’d be in or around fourth place, and if we lost we’d be in (or) around eighth place, so a lot of guys had the mentality that this was a must win.
“It got a little sketchy at the end, but we definitely took care of business.”
FIU starter Nick MacDonald pitched well, striking out six in 5 and 1/3 innings. But he tired at the end, giving up three runs in the sixth and leaving the game with UTSA leading 4-1. (Photo by Jerry Briggs)
UTSA-FIU series at a glance
With a revised schedule, the Roadrunners and Panthers played two nine-inning games on Friday, with UTSA winning the opener 12-4 and then dropping the nightcap, 2-1.
Brookover homered in the first game and drove in four. For the series, he produced four hits, scored five runs and had five RBIs.
Craft, a pro prospect, pitched in all three games.
In Game 2, he took the loss after giving up a game-winning homer to Logan Allen in the eighth. But by Sunday, he earned redemption and a victory that improved his record to 3-3.
The 6-foot-8 right-hander, with a fastball clocked at 96 mph on the radar gun, worked a combined five innings in the three games and allowed one run on five hits. He struck out seven and walked two.
UTSA 21-17, 9-8
FIU 18-21, 8-10
UTSA hosts intra-city Division I foe Incarnate Word in a non-conference game on Tuesday night. The Roadrunners return to C-USA competition on Friday with the first of three games at Middle Tennessee.
UTSA’s Derek Craft fires a pitch in the eighth inning against the FIU Golden Panthers. (Photo by Jerry Briggs)
UTSA players applaud teammate Ben Brookover as he rounds the bases following a three-run homer in the opener of a doubleheader Friday against FIU.
FIU freshman Logan Allen got a second chance to beat the UTSA Roadrunners on Friday night, and he didn’t waste it.
Coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter, Allen belted a solo homer in the eighth inning to boost the Golden Panthers to a 2-1 victory and a split of a Conference USA baseball doubleheader at Roadrunner Field.
UTSA won the first game, 12-4, saddling Allen with the loss as the starting pitcher.
Game 1 recap
Senior Ben Brookover and junior Ryan Stacy smashed three-run homers, lifting UTSA to its 20th victory of the season.
Brookover delivered in the fifth inning as UTSA rallied from a two-run deficit and into a 4-3 lead.
Batting from the left side, Stacy sliced a twisting shot over the left-field wall to highlight a six-run eighth, turning the game into a run-away.
“Just glad we were able to extend the lead in the first game,” UTSA coach Jason Marshall said. “To get a little bit of a cushion there, late in the game, and to win the first game in a series is always key and important, especially to defend your home turf on a Friday.”
Junior Kyrell Miller (3-1) was the winning pitcher in 3 and 2/3 innings of relief. He yielded one run on three hits.
Miller struck out seven and walked one.
“Knowing how (starter Steven) Dressler has thrown all year and to see him come out of the game early, and for us to just hold serve … Kyrell Miller threw really well,” Marshall said. “(He) struck a couple of guys out to end an inning and then struck three guys out the following inning.”
Allen (4-5) started for the Panthers and was pitching well until he ran into trouble in the fifth.
He grooved a pitch to Brookover, who jerked it on a line over the left field wall and into the net for a lead that UTSA would not relinquish.
FIU’s Lorenzo Hampton delivers an RBI triple to right field Friday in the opener of a doubleheader at UTSA.
FIU jumped out to a 3-1 lead in its first four at bats.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the first inning with an RBI triple by Lorenzo Hampton.
They added another run in the second on a solo homer by Adan Fernandez.
Game 2 recap
In evaluating what went wrong in the second game of the double-header, Marshall started his analysis with FIU starting pitcher Andres Nunez (see video above).
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound, right-hander pitched seven innings, limiting UTSA to one run on five hits. He struck out nine.
“You know, I got nightmares of Nunez,” Marshall said. “In 2015, he pitched an absolute fantastic game against us in the conference tournament.
“He’s had some hardships and some injuries, and now he’s back, and once again beats the Roadrunners.”
Allen also did his part.
After UTSA scratched out a run against Nunez to tie the game in the seventh, FIU coaches elected to pinch hit Allen for Juan Teixeira to lead off the eighth.
He delivered with a solo homer over the left field wall against UTSA reliever Derek Craft.
“He got into one, and on a night like tonight when the wind’s blowing out to left, it doesn’t take a lot,” Marshall said.
It was Allen’s first homer of the season in 82 at bats.
UTSA freshman Jonathan Tapia turns on the jets to beat a throw to first base after an FIU infield bobble in the seventh. The error allowed Chris Estrada to score from third, tying the game, 1-1.
FIU 18-20, 8-9
UTSA 20-17, 8-8
Sunday: Single game, noon
Note: The schedule originally called for single games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Officials on Thursday agreed to play two games Friday, take Saturday off because of forecasts for inclement weather, and then play the finale on Sunday.
UTSA sophomore guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives against Sam Houston State in the CIT quarterfinals. Photo by Joe Alexander.
An emotional UTSA coach Steve Henson addressed reporters Thursday night, explaining the difficulty of delivering a proper message to his players following their last game of the season.
“That’s always a tough conversation,” Henson said. “You know, you’re never totally prepared for it. Going into tonight’s game, (you’re) expecting to win and hoping to win and play next week, so, it was tough. A very tough locker room.”
Trailing by 12 early in the second half, Sam Houston State rallied to eliminate UTSA on its home court with a 76-69 victory in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
An announced crowd of 1,352 watched as the visitors from the Southland Conference hit the home team with a late 17-2 run over a five-minute span to take charge.
With the surge, Sam Houston turned a 57-50 deficit into a 67-59 lead with five minutes remaining.
The Roadrunners (20-15) of Conference USA never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Ultimately, the Bearkats (21-14) won the game at the free-throw line. They hit 27 of 34 to only 7 of 13 for the Roadrunners.
UTSA players took the loss hard.
“I want to keep this feeling, right here, for all summer, how I hurt right now, to work out all summer, to get better and to win the conference (next year),” UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao said.
Sam Houston State’s Josh Delaney (15) drives hard to the bucket and dishes to teammate Freddy Bitondo (0) for a layup mid-way through the second half.
Sam Houston State: John Dewey III, 18 points, including 13 in the second half. He hit 8 of 10 free throws. Cameron Delaney, 13 points, 6 rebounds. Chris Galbreath, 11 points, 12 rebounds. Josh Delaney, 11 points, 5 assists.
UTSA: Keaton Wallace, 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 3 of 7 from three-point distance. Giovanni De Nicolao, 17 points on 7 of 13, including 3 of 5 from three. Nick Allen, 11 points, 4 of 12. Byron Frohnen, 8 points, 4 rebounds. Deon Lyle, 5 points on 2 of 9, 1 of 7 from three.
UTSA forward Byron Frohnen runs the floor and gets the ball for an easy shot late in the first half against Sam Houston State.
The UTSA Roadrunners hit eight three-pointers in the first half, breaking out to a 37-28 intermission lead.
Wallace led the long-distance barrage, nailing three shots from beyond the arc.
De Nicolao and Allen added two more apiece as the Roadrunners nailed 8 of 16 overall.
Defensively, UTSA played well, holding Sam Houston to 10 of 30 from the field and 4 of 6 free throws.
UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao hits a three from the corner early in the first half against Sam Houston State.
UTSA players wanted a CIT championship, but they did bring home a 20-win season — only the seventh in the program’s 37 years.
The Roadrunners played its sixth straight game without leading scorer Jhivvan Jackson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 24 against Louisiana Tech. UTSA went 3-3 in his absence, including 1-1 in the C-USA tournament and 1-1 in the CIT.
Cameron Delaney, a junior guard from Harker Heights, sparked Sam Houston’s decisive 17-2 run with three-pointer, a steal and another basket.
The Bearkats played without guard Marcus Harris, who injured his foot Monday night in a 69-62 home victory over Eastern Michigan. Harris played in high school in San Antonio for the MacArthur Brahmas. He is averaging 9.7 points per game.
Central Michigan at Liberty
Sam Houston State beat UTSA, 76-69