By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay
Antonio Valdez stole three bases in one inning, sparking the 24th-ranked UTSA Roadrunners to a 5-3 victory over the Charlotte 49ers Thursday in Conference USA baseball.
In the first game of a C-USA doubleheader at Charlotte, UTSA bounced back from a mid-week loss at Incarnate Word behind Valdez, a breakout offensive star in his first year with the team after transferring from Baylor.
Valdez produced three hits, including an RBI triple, plus three stolen bases, including a daring, eighth-inning steal of home. Plus, he also scored twice.
Luke Malone (4-2) pitched into the sixth inning to earn the victory, and Simon Miller closed with 3 and 2/3 of scoreless relief to earn his sixth save. Charlotte starter Wyatt Hudepohl (2-4) worked seven innings and took the loss.
With rain in the forecast in North Carolina, UTSA and Charlotte elected to play twice on Thursday. Game 3 is tentatively set for Saturday afternoon.
Charlotte trailed by three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Will Butcher golfed a two-run homer to left field off Malone, pulling the 49ers to within 4-3. Two batters later, Miller entered the game and issued a walk to put runners at first and second.
The UTSA infield turned a double play to end it. The infield defense did it again in the seventh inning, picking up another twin killing to protect a one-run lead. Second baseman Leyton Barry made slick relay plays to first base to facilitate both defensive gems.
Two innings later, in the top of the eight, Valdez electrified the Roadrunners’ bench with his base running.
After reaching on a fielder’s choice, he stole second base, third base and then stole home to give UTSA a two-run cushion.
On the steal of home, Valdez danced off third and broke for the plate after the catcher tossed the ball back to the pitcher. Sliding head first, he beat the throw to the plate, giving the Roadrunners’ a two-run cushion. Afterward, players met him at the dugout steps with high-fives and shouts of encouragement.
The Roadrunners started the week on Monday by learning that they had been ranked in the top 25 in the nation for the first time. Baseball America moved them up to the No. 24 spot.
On Tuesday night, they played a road game in San Antonio against the University of Incarnate Word and allowed a five-run lead to slip away from them, eventually giving up five in the ninth inning and losing 9-6 on a walk off home run by Rey Mendoza.
It was the third time in the last three weeks that UTSA lost mid-week games and then turned around a few days later to win a C-USA series opener.
Two weeks ago, they lost at UT-Rio Grande Valley and then won at Rice. Last week, they lost at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and then won at home against Western Kentucky. This week, after the stunning collapse at UIW, they played a game in North Carolina on less than a 48-hour turnaround and won again.
UTSA 24-7, 9-1
Charlotte 14-15, 5-5
UTSA at Charlotte, today, second game of a doubleheader.