Title-series bound Amarillo manager applauds the young San Antonio Missions for having ‘a great season’

Adam Mazur. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 6-3 in Game 3 of the Texas League South Division playoffs on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Missions starter Adam Mazur struck out six in four innings but yielded four runs to take the loss Friday night. The Amarillo Sod Poodles went on to win 6-3 to clinch a Texas League divisional playoff series. — Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Shawn Roof was a proud baseball manager on Friday night. Proud of his players. Proud of his coaches. Three nights ago, Roof’s Amarillo Sod Poodles lost the first game of a Texas League divisional playoff series at home to the San Antonio Missions.

Suddenly the Soddies, who dominated the second half in the TL South Division with 43 victories, were one loss away from getting unceremoniously swept out of the postseason by a team that finished tied for last.

But it didn’t happen. Or, rather, Amarillo’s players and coaches wouldn’t allow it to happen. They won Thursday and then won again Friday at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio to claim the best-of-three series, two games to one.

Outside the visitors’ clubhouse, about an hour after Amarillo had secured the postseason title in the South and advanced to the TL title round against Arkansas, the stadium lights were still on.

Amarillo players slowly filed out of the dressing room with bags slung over their shoulders, heading for the bus. A reporter asked Roof what it meant to him for his players to buckle down and win twice in two nights on the Missions’ home field.

“First off, you want to give credit to San Antonio,” Roof said. “They had a heck of a year. (Missions manager) Luke Montz and his staff did a great job. Those players play the game right. They had a great season. First, (I) want to congratulate them.”

The Missions, a team filled with enticing young talent and capable veterans, won 12-11 in 10 innings Tuesday night in Amarillo. In that regard, it took quite a bit of resilience for the Sod Poodles to steady themselves and win 7-4 on Thursday and then 6-3 on Friday.

Back to back — on the road. It was quite a statement, all right. A four-run fourth inning by the Soddies, ignited by extra-base hits from Seth Beer and Deyvison De Los Santos, proved to be the difference in the series finale.

“They were a very formidable opponent,” Roof said. “We had our backs to the wall (after the first game). But our guys came back and, you know, they never stopped fighting all year long. They’d always answer back no matter what the score was.

“I’m really proud of them and our coaching staff. I’m just excited for those guys, to have an opportunity to play for a ring.”

For the Missions, it was the second time in two years that they were eliminated on their home field in the first round. Last year, they lost the opener on the road and then came home to lose Game 2, falling in two games to the Frisco RoughRiders.

The Missions’ first season under Montz and its third under a renewed affiliation agreement with the San Diego Padres had its highs and its lows.

Buoyed by players such as Tirso Ornelas and Chandler Seagle, they won the TL South first half and thereby qualified for the playoffs by finishing 37-32.

After an almost complete roster makeover in the second half, they showed promise at times but ultimately finished 33-36, tied for last in the South with Frisco. Now, with the season completed, it was time for reflection.

“Hell of a season,” Montz said. “We came up short … This what you work for from Day 1, is to reach the playoffs.”

Added Montz, “We won Game 1 on the road, and that’s a tough place to play. Ten home runs, five by each team … It just didn’t go our way at home. We fell behind early in both games tried to fight back. Tonight they just went with a bullpen night (with the pitching) and we have three hits, four hits?”

For the record, it was three. Two singles and a Graham Pauley double. Another telling statistic? They were 1 for 11 at the plate with runners in scoring position.

The Missions had their chances. They led 1-0 early, and starting pitcher Adam Mazur plowed through the first three innings mostly unscathed.

“I thought Mazur threw the ball well,” Montz said. “We had that one hiccup where we give up four runs in the inning. We chipped away, got ourselves within a couple and then we give up another one late in the ball game. One win away from moving on and just didn’t come up with it.”

Trailing by a run early, the Sod Poodles erupted for four runs in the fourth to take a 4-1 lead. All of it came at the expense of Mazur, who had allowed one hit through the first three innings.

A.J. Vukovich started it off with a one-out single to center field. After Vukovich stole second, Beer followed with a ringing RBI double into the gap in left center.

Not to be outdone, De Los Santos hit a hard smash into the left field corner. Beer scored easily and De Los Santos made it all the way to third when the ball got away from Missions outfielder Ripken Reyes on the carom.

After that, the momentum continued to flow in Amarillo’s favor. Kristian Robinson walked, putting runners on the corner. Up stepped Juan Centeno, who executed a sacrifice bunt that scored De Los Santos. Jancarlos Cintron promptly drove in the fourth run on a triple to right.

Another key sequence in the game came in the bottom of the fifth when the Missions scored one to pull within 4-3. Nathan Martorella was up with two outs and the bases loaded. Carlos Meza struck him out to end the inning and the threat.

In the Sod Poodles’ next at bat, they capitalized when relief pitcher Austin Krob lost his control. First, he hit Beer with a pitch. Next, a wild pitch allowed Beer to take second. Ultimately, he advanced to third on a ground ball and scored on a line single to right.

So instead of the Missions taking control in the previous inning, the the Arizona Diamondbacks-affiliated Sod Poodles padded a lead that they ultimately would not relinquish, and now they’re headed for Game 1 of the championship series Sunday afternoon at Arkansas.

Montz told reporters that he enjoyed in his first year as manager of the Missions.

“It was fun,” he said. “It was a blast. Fell in love with San Antonio. You know, we’re Texas people. We live here, about five hours away (in East Texas). My wife and kids enjoyed it. We loved it. What a season.

“The locker room’s been fun,” he continued. “You know, we had some ups and downs from Day 1 to where we are today. Won the first round in the division. (Also, just) look at the new wave of guys who came through this locker room. A lot of guys have shifted to Triple A. Three or four who made it up to San Diego. Positives all around.”

Talented players who came to San Antonio in the second half of the season were so young, fans are surely wondering whether some might be back next year.

Catcher Ethan Salas was only 17 when he arrived in the last week of August. Pitcher Robby Snelling was 19. Shortstop Jackson Merrill was 20. Then there was 21-year-old Homer Bush, Jr., along with Pauley, Martorella and Jakob Marsee, all of them only 22.

“You look at the roster and you put things together,” Montz said. “Offseason, we’ll go to spring training and see what the front office wants to do. We’ll see what (Padres president) A.J. Preller wants to do with these guys, and go from there.”


Playoff drama looms with deciding Game 3 tonight at Wolff

Missions Sod Poodles 20230921 Graham Pauley 0807 0443 0434 0572 Graham Pauley had three hits including this double as the San Antonio Missions lost the Amarillo Sod Poodles 7-4 on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Graham Pauley had three hits Thursday night, including this double, as the Missions lost to the Amarillo Sod Poodles 7-4 in Game 2 of the Texas League divisional playoffs. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

After the San Antonio Missions escaped with a wild, extra-innings victory in Amarillo on Tuesday, they returned home to Wolff Stadium on Thursday night hoping to beat the Sod Poodles again to clinch a first-round Texas League playoff series.

The Soddies had other ideas.

Amarillo hit three home runs, cruised to an early six-run lead and then held on for a 7-4 win to tie the best-of-three set at one game apiece. As a result, the two teams will play again Friday night at the Wolff, with the winner advancing to the TL title series.

Seth Beer, Deyvison De Los Santos and Caleb Roberts homered to back the pitching of high-kicking starter Yilber Diaz, allowing the Sod Poodles to keep their championship hopes alive.

On Tuesday, both teams hit five home runs apiece in the series opener as San Antonio won, 12-11, in 10 innings. The Missions weren’t quite as prolific at the plate in Game 2.

They hit the ball well early but couldn’t capitalize when they had runners on base. Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, they broke through with two runs. Michael De La Cruz blasted an RBI double off the wall and 21-year-old Homer Bush Jr. added an RBI single to right.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Amarillo bullpen faltered and San Antonio took advantage, scoring two runs. That’s when the rally ended. With the bases loaded, De La Cruz popped up to left field for the final out.

Afterward, Missions manager Luke Montz said he liked the way his team kept battling in the game. He said he will not need to call a meeting for any pep talks to get his players ready to play on Friday.

“There’s nothing to say,” Montz said. “We talk about this from day one. This is what it’s all about. It’s winning baseball. It’s a winning culture. Playoff baseball. Guys are going to show up at the ballpark tomorrow with a job to do, and (that is to) win.

“We put it on the line. We talk about that from day one. There’s no speeches. We’re going to go out there and compete and get after somebody.”

Missions notes

Infielder Graham Pauley is the Player of the Year and Robby Snelling is the Pitcher of the Year in the San Diego Padres’ minor-league system. Both are playing for the Double-A Missions in the Texas League playoffs.

Pauley, 22, from Alpharetta, Ga., batted .308 in 127 combined games between Single-A Lake Elsinore, High-A Fort Wayne and San Antonio. Snelling, 19, from Reno, Nevada, went 11-3 with a 1.82 ERA in 22 combined starts between Lake Elsinore, Fort Wayne and San Antonio.

In winning the award, Pauley said it was an honor. He said he talked to officials in the organization, including A.J. Preller, the Padres’ president of baseball operations and general manager.

The words of encouragement from everyone were welcomed by Pauley, who joined the Missions late in the season, on Aug. 22.

“It kind of just makes me want to do the same stuff and try to stick to the routine I’ve had all year,” said Pauley, who legged out a double and hit two singles Thursday night. “When you keep doing the same things and it’s working out, you keep those things going.”

Texas League playoffs

Thursday’s scores

South — Amarillo 7, San Antonio 4.
North — Springfield 6, Arkansas 4.
Note: Both series are tied, 1-1.

Friday’s games

South — Amarillo at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
North — Springfield at Arkansas, 6:35 p.m.
Note: Winners advance to the TL title series

TL title series

Sunday — South winner at the North
Tuesday — North at South
Wednesday — North at South (if necessary)

Playoffs primer: Five players to watch for the San Antonio Missions

Ryan Bergert - August 25, 2023 vs. Amarillo Sod Poodles

Ryan Bergert is expected to start for the Missions tonight against the explosive Amarillo Sod Poodles. Bergert pitched six scoreless innings at home against Amarillo on Aug. 25, — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

Here are a few San Antonio Missions players to watch as they continue their first-round Texas League playoff series tonight at home against the Amarillo Sod Poodles. San Antonio leads Amarillo 1-0 in the best-of-three between teams in the TL South Division. With a win tonight, the Missions would clinch their first playoff series victory since 2018.

Ryan Bergert
Age: 23
Born: Canton, Ohio
Position: Pitcher

The 6-foot-1 righthander is expected to start for the Missions tonight. Bergert’s task is a tough one, to try and slow down an explosive Amarillo offense. Though San Antonio escaped with a 12-11 victory in 10 innings Tuesday night, the Sod Poodles did damage with 17 hits and five home runs. Bergert’s third season as a pro has turned out to be his best. He has fashioned a 6-4 record with a 2.79 earned run average (combined) at both High A Fort Wayne, Ind., and at San Antonio. With the Missions since July 14, he has pitched in nine games and is 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA. His WHIP is solid at 1.14 and opponents hit only .206 against him. One of Bergert’s best performances came against Amarillo at home on Aug. 25 when he pitched six scoreless innings and struck out nine. The Sod Poodles scored an unearned run against the Missions’ bullpen and won the game, 1-0.

Did you know? Bergert pitched in the Big 12 with the West Virginia Mountaineers. He sat out the 2021 season after Tommy John elbow surgery but still got drafted that summer, selected in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres.

Nathan Martorella

Nathan Martorella - Sept. 15 vs. Springfield Cardinals

Nathan Martorella, taking a swing on Sept. 15 at home against Springfield, hit two home runs for the Missions in their playoff opener Tuesday night. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 22
Born: Monterey, Calif.
Position: First base

Martorella went three for five at the plate and slammed two, two-run home runs in the team’s playoff opener. The former all Pac-12 player for the Cal Bears started his second professional season at High-A Fort Wayne, Ind. With the TinCaps, he played in 112 games, hit 16 home runs and produced 73 RBIs. Promoted to Double-A, he joined the Missions on Aug. 22. In 23 regular-season games, Martorella struggled a bit in hitting for a .236 average. He hit three home runs and drove in 15.

Did you know? Martorella was born in Monterey, Calif., and grew up in Salinas. He excelled academically at Salinas High School with a 3.9 GPA. Graduated in 2019 and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 30th round, but did not sign. He went on to attend Cal and became a three-year starter. Blossomed into an all Pac-12 player as a junior. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round in 2022.

Marcos Castanon

Marcos Castanon - July 14 vs. Arkansas Travelers

Marcos Castanon, seen here playing at home against Arkansas on July 14, has sparked the Missions with his defense and his offense. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 24
Born: San Bernardino, Calif.
Position: Second base

Castanon, a 12th-round draft pick two years ago out of UC Santa Barbara, he came up big both defensively and offensively for the Missions in the playoff opener. After receiving a throw from the outfield, he threw out Kristian Robinson at the plate to save a run in the seventh inning. In the 10th, he blasted a three-run homer to give the Missions a five-run lead. To start the year, Castanon played 77 games in High A at Fort Wayne, Ind. Assigned to the Missions on July 14, he hit .280 in 54 regular-season games.

Did you know? Born in San Bernardino, Castanon grew up in Rialto, where he hit .579 as a high school senior. In college, he was a four-year starter at UC Santa Barbara. He hit .404 as a senior in 2021 when the Gauchos reached the NCAA tournament. In the tournament, they beat Oklahoma State twice before bowing out of the Tucson Regional in four games.

Homer Bush, Jr.

Homer Bush Jr. - Sept. 12 vs. Springfield Cardinals

Homer Bush Jr. hit .429 in eight regular-season games for the Missions and homered in the team’s first playoff game Tuesday. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 21
Born: Grapevine
Position: Center field

Bush had a big night in his first playoff game in the minors, going two for three with a home run, three runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base. The rangy outfielder is a Texan, a native of Grapevine who played at Southlake Carroll High School. In college, he played for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. The San Diego Padres drafted him in July out of GCU. In a meteoric rise through the system, the first-year pro has played on three levels of the minors this summer, starting with rookie ball at the Arizona Complex League, then with Lake Elsinore in the Single-A California League and now with the Missions. He joined the Missions on Sept. 8 and played eight regular-season games, hitting .429. On the last day of the regular season, he went four for four at the plate, meaning that in his last two games he is six for seven at the plate.

Did you know? His father, Homer Bush Sr., played in the major leagues for seven seasons, suiting up for the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins. He won a World Series title with the Yankees in 1998. But in 1999, the Yanks packaged David Wells and Graeme Lloyd and Bush and sent them to the Blue Jays for pitcher Roger Clemens. Clemens, now retired after winning 354 games in the majors, is listed as part of the Ryan Sanders group holding an ownership stake in the Missions.

Lake Bachar

Lake Bachar - Aug. 22, 2023 vs. Sod Poodles

Lake Bachar, a former college football player at Wisconsin-Whitewater, hasn’t allowed an earned run since Aug. 17. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 28
Hometown: Winfield, Ill.
Position: Relief pitcher

Bachar is riding a nearly month-long streak of 10 appearances without allowing an earned run. He capped the streak Tuesday night by striking out four in two scoreless innings. Over that time, Bachar has pitched 17 innings, while yielding only five hits and two runs (neither of them earned). Also in the streak, he has struck out 21 and walked five. Last time he gave up an earned run? It was Aug. 17. On that date he yielded three runs (all earned) on four hits in 2 and 1/3 innings a 9-4 loss to the Midland RockHounds.

Did you know? Bachar played football and baseball in college at NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. In 2014 and 2015, he was a kicker and a punter on the nationally-ranked football team. He kicked a 46-yard field goal in an D-III semifinal playoff game against Mount Union (Ohio).

Missions, Travelers win on opening night in the Texas League playoffs

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

The San Antonio Missions escaped with a wild 12-11 victory in 10 innings Tuesday night to take a 1-0 lead on the Amarillo Sod Poodles in a best-of-three, first-round series in the Texas League playoffs.

Both teams hit five home runs in the opener of a South Division series that will continue with Game 2 on Thursday night at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio. A third game, if necessary, would be played Friday night at Wolff.

The winner of the series will advance to the TL championship round, which is scheduled to open on Sunday in the home park of the North Division winner.

Arkansas has the upper hand in the North after winning the opener in the other TL semifinal. The Travelers downed the Springfield Cardinals 3-1 on a rainy night in Springfield. The series now shifts to North Little Rock, Ark., where Arkansas can clinch with a victory in Game 2 on Thursday.

Playing in Amarillo in Game 1 of a series between TL South rivals, the Missions needed a fast start, and they got it, surging into leads of 5-0 and 6-1.

But in a game that evolved into an epic struggle, with the Sod Poodles rallying to tie the score 7-7 after the regulation nine innings, both teams saved the best for last.

In the top of the 10th, the Missions erupted for five runs, capped by a three-run homer from Marcos Castanon. Not to be outdone, the Sod Poodles scored four in the bottom half. Caleb Roberts’ second homer of the game, a three-run shot off Daniel Camarena, rallied the Soddies to within the eventual final score.

The game finally ended when Amarillo star A.J. Vukovich flied out to Korry Howell in right field.

For the Missions, 22-year-old Nathan Martorella hit two, two-run home runs, one in the first inning and another in the third, to lead the early surge. San Antonio’s other homers came from 21-year-old Homer Bush, Jr., and also from Cole Cummings and Castanon.

Despite the onslaught by the first-half South Division champions, the Sod Poodles, who won the second-half title, never seemed to be out of contention.

Roberts, a 23-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., led the way with two home runs on the night to highlight his three-hit, five RBI attack. Additionally, former Stanford University star Tim Tawa, Kristian Robinson and Seth Beer added one homer apiece.

After the Missions scored once in the eighth on a Sod Poodles throwing error to take a 7-6 lead, the home team tied it in dramatic fashion, with Beer slugging a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth.

The Missions used six pitchers, with 19-year-old Robby Snelling getting the start and working four innings. He yielded three runs on seven hits.

Lake Bachar, the fourth Missions hurler, proved to be effective with two scoreless innings. He held the Sod Poodles to two hits over the seventh and the eighth. Team saves leader Efrain Contreras pitched all of the ninth and part of the 10th to earn the victory. After giving up Roberts’ blast, Camarena hung on at the end to get the last out.

In all, the Sod Poodles’ offense lashed 17 hits against Missions pitching. Missions hitters did some serious damage themselves, collecting 14 hits. Starter Dylan Ray took the brunt of it, yielding six runs on eight hits in 3 and 2/3 innings. Forced to go to the bullpen time and again after that, Amarillo used six pitchers to try and stay in it.

Reliever Raffi Vizcaino worked the ninth inning and part of the 10th, yielding five runs, including four of them earned, to take the loss.

Missions notes

A defensive gem for the Missions came in the seventh inning. With the game tied 6-6, Amarillo’s Jancarlos Cintron lined a single to right field. Cole Cummings fielded it and fired to Castanon, the second baseman. Castanon promptly fired home, where catcher Michael De La Cruz applied the tag on Robinson for the third out. To begin the play, Robinson was on first base. Though he got a fast start on a hit-and-run ploy, the Missions foiled it with two strong throws.

Last season, the Missions were swept out of the first round of the playoffs in two games by the eventual league champion Frisco RoughRiders. They dropped the first game 7-3 in Frisco and came home to lose, 5-2. It was their first trip to the postseason since 2018. In ’18, they beat Corpus Christi three games to two in the first round, only to lose three games to none to the Tulsa Drillers in the finals.

The Missions won their last league pennant 10 years ago.

In 2013, the Missions swept to the TL title behind manager Rich Dauer. They were led on the field by pitchers Keyvius Sampson, Matt Andriese and Matt Wisler. In the first round, they eliminated Corpus Christi three games to two. In the finals, they beat Arkansas by the same count. Journeyman Johan Limonta, who started the season playing in an independent league in Pennsylvania, hit a grand slam in the championship series clincher at Arkansas. His fourth-inning blow was the difference in a 5-0 victory.

North Division highlights

Prelander Berroa struck out the final two hitters of the night to nail down a 3-1 victory for the visiting Travelers. The final strikeout came with the two runners in scoring position. A single to the outfield could have tied the game, but Berroa fanned Cardinals leadoff man Victor Scott II to end the game.

September to remember: James McArthur finds his groove with the Kansas City Royals

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

The professional baseball career of former New Braunfels High School pitcher James McArthur has taken a few unexpected twists and turns over the past four months. He has been traded and he has been hit hard. He’s bounced back and forth from the minor leagues to the majors.

Adversity? Coming off elbow troubles last year, McArthur has seen his share of it, for sure. But that was then, and this is now. And right now, he apparently has packed away all his troubles, setting the stage for a strong finish as a Kansas City Royals rookie.

Four months after a trade sent him from the Phillies to the Royals, McArthur clearly has found a groove. He hasn’t allowed an earned run — or even a run, period — in seven appearances out of the Royals’ bullpen this month.

After adding a slider to his repertoire, the 6-foot-7 righthander has thrown one-hit ball over 9 and 2/3 scoreless innings in September.

In his last two appearances, both at home, he earned his first major league win against the Houston Astros last Friday night, followed by his first save against the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

As the Royals beat the Indians 6-4 at Kauffman Stadium, McArthur finished the game — three up three, three down — to earn mention Tuesday morning on the MLB network highlights.

All told, he threw only 17 pitches in retiring Bo Naylor, Myles Straw and Steven Kwan, lowering his WHIP to a microscopic 0.10 for the month. Highlighting the outing, McArthur unleashed a nasty slider to strike out Straw swinging.

Not too bad for a guy who was battling an elbow problem as a Phillies minor leaguer last summer. Eventually, he moved past the sore arm, but the defending National League champions had other plans for him.

In May, the Phillies dealt McArthur for outfielder Junior Morin and cash. The former 12th-round draft pick by the Phillies went to the Royals, who assigned him to Triple-A Omaha.

By the end of June, he got the call to the majors. But in keeping with the crazy summer, his callup was hardly the stuff of Hollywood. Once in the big leagues, he got bombed in his Royals debut on June 28 against the Indians, giving up seven runs in one inning. Two days later, he was sent back to the minors.

Through August, he moved up and came back down to the minors a few more times. On Sept. 1, though, the Royals recalled him again. He’s been stringing zeroes on the scoreboard ever since.


McArthur is the third former New Braunfels High School ball player to reach the major leagues this season. Earlier, Bryce Miller made the Seattle Mariners and Jordan Westburg was called up to the Baltimore Orioles. All three athletes played collegiately in the Southeastern Conference, Miller at Texas A&M, Westburg at Mississippi State and McArthur at Ole Miss.

UTSA women’s basketball prepares to enter the American with talent, depth and experience

UTSA coach Karen Aston. North Texas beat UTSA 51-48 in Conference USA women's basketball on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Karen Aston’s UTSA Roadrunners won nine of their last 13 games last season and executed a spirited charge into the semifinals of the C-USA tournament. – File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Three weeks away from the start of official fall practices, UTSA women’s basketball coaches are feeling pretty good about the talent, the depth and the experience on a team that will carry the school’s flag into its first season in the American Athletic Conference.

“I think we’re in a better place than we were last year at this time,” third-year UTSA head coach Karen Aston said Monday “We had some carryover from people sticking around and not transferring.

Jordyn Jenkins. The UTSA women's basketball team lost to Louisiana Tech 62-57 in the Roadrunners' Conference USA opener on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Jordyn Jenkins averaged 20.6 points per game in her first season at UTSA. Coach Karen Aston says the 6-foot power forward is rehabilitating an offseason knee injury. – File photo by Joe Alexander

“You know, we didn’t graduate a lot of kids. Hailey (Atwood) returned for us (as a graduate student). I think there’s just a little more carryover. We’re a little further ahead than we were this time last year.”

One issue looms with a question regarding the health of star forward Jordyn Jenkins. Aston said that Jenkins suffered a knee injury last spring that required surgery.

The coach declined to discuss the mishap in detail, other than to say that last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year was hurt in the offseason, in a March-April time frame.

Aston also declined to speculate on how far along Jenkins is in the rehabilitation process, with the season opener for the Roadrunners looming on Nov. 6 at Arizona State.

“We’re really disappointed for her,” she said. “She was in such a really good place. We’ll just see how she recovers.”

If Jenkins can return to form, the Roadrunners could have one of the most talented teams in school history.

In her first season at UTSA after transferring from Southern Cal, the 6-foot power forward captured the C-USA’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors by averaging 20.6 points (on 49 percent shooting) and 7.5 rebounds a game.

Tossing in a school single-season record 659 points, Jenkins led the charge as the Roadrunners finished 9-4 down the stretch to post a final mark of 13-19.

Near the end, they won six games in a row, including their last four in the regular season and their first two in the C-USA postseason.

At that point, after notching tournament wins over Florida Atlantic and Rice to move within two victories of the NCAA’s Big Dance, they were ousted by Western Kentucky in the conference semifinals.

Moving into the AAC this season, the Roadrunners are loaded with experienced players, including five returning starters.

Strength down low last year came from Jenkins and 6-3 center Elyssa Coleman (9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds). The lead guards were Sidney Love (9.9 points) and Kyra White (8.0), with Atwood playing on the wing. Those five started the last game of the C-USA tournament.

Key reserves for most of the year included forward Maya Linton and guards Madison Cockrell, Siena Guttadauro and Alexis Parker. Along with those four, Kyleigh McGuire also played off the bench — and all five of them are back. Another player returning is Nissa Sam-Grant, a 6-foot-4 post, who redshirted last season.

A few weeks into early fall semester workouts, there’s a completely different feel from this time last year, when the Roadrunners were trying to manage a team with eight newcomers, including five freshmen.

“Last year, we brought in eight new people,” assistant coach Empress Davenport said. “That’s essentially a starting five with reserves coming off the bench, having to learn a whole new system, having to understand the pace of collegiate basketball.

“This year we brought in three freshmen (guards Emma Lucio and Aysia Proctor and forward Idara Udo) and a transfer from James Madison, Cheyenne Rowe, who has a tremendous IQ.

“Last year, everyone was trying to learn the system and find cohesiveness (with) each other. Now, we have so much experience, our veteran players can pretty much coach the young ones.”

UTSA roster

Elyssa Coleman 6-3 forward/RS junior
Hailey Atwood 5-8 guard/grad
Alexis Parker 5-9 guard/soph
Emma Lucio 5-9 guard/freshman
Siena Guttadauro 5-6 guard/soph
Madison Cockrell 5-4 guard/soph
Sidney Love 5-8 guard/soph
Aysia Proctor 5-8 guard/freshman
Maya Linton 5-11 forward/soph
Cheyenne Rowe 6-2 forward/soph
Kyra White 5-9 guard/senior
Kyleigh McGuire 5-11 forward/senior
Idara Udo 6-1 forward/freshman
Nissa Sam-Grant 6-4 center/senior
Jordyn Jenkins 6-0 forward/senior

UTSA coach reflects on portal craziness and efforts to rebuild a basketball roster

Steve Henson. Louisiana Tech beat UTSA 66-55 in Conference USA men's basketball on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson applauded his assistant coaches for their work in a hectic summer of recruiting after losing 10 players in the transfer portal. — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

One thing I’ve always admired about Steve Henson is, when he fields a tough question, he keeps his composure and answers it honestly, without getting defensive.

It’s an admirable trait that I suppose comes from all the time he spent studying at the Lon Kruger school of college basketball.

In addition, it’s clear that Henson respects those in the media and the job that they do.

As for yours truly, I didn’t ask the embattled coach of the UTSA Roadrunners all the tough questions on Wednesday afternoon.

But in the interest of good, honest storytelling, and on the eve of Henson’s eighth season on campus, I couldn’t help asking at least one or two.

I asked about the way last season ended and then about the two or three weeks of transfer portal craziness that followed.

For a refresher, Henson’s Roadrunners were playing the Rice Owls in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament at Frisco.

The Roadrunners appeared to have advanced to the quarterfinals, as point guard Japhet Medor drove for what initially was scored as a buzzer-beating, game-winning basket.

In the moments that followed, elation turned to agony, as officials ruled that Medor didn’t get the shot off in time.

“Just a heart breaker,” Henson said of the 72-71 loss.

While the pain of having a season end on an official’s review was shocking enough, the aftermath was even worse.

Back home in San Antonio, nobody liked the idea of a second consecutive 10-22 record going into the UTSA basketball history books.

But, really, who would have imagined that the Roadrunners would ultimately have 10 scholarship players enter the transfer portal over the next few weeks?

“It was a hectic spring and summer,” Henson said in an interview at his office. “Some of those guys that entered the portal, it was mutual. It was expected in several cases. They wanted bigger roles, better opportunities.

“(We had) a couple of surprises. One or two, we were disappointed and (it) surprised us. But we weren’t shocked.

“One or two just jumped in (to the portal) to see what was happening. There were a couple that went in that didn’t want to go in. A couple that went in and wanted to come back.”

A common thread in roster instability around the nation today is related to Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) payments that are now available to all college athletes.

Combined with a one-time transfer rule that allows athletes to move from school to school without having to sit out a year, it’s not surprising that so many are taking advantage of it.

Surely, it’s one of the factors that contributed to UTSA players looking elsewhere. Who could blame them, really?

If you work hard at your job and you can get better compensation elsewhere, wouldn’t you at least take a look? Of course you would.

Henson, for his part, didn’t want to comment about any of the particulars on any of his former players.

But he did discuss with some emotion the efforts to rebuild his team and the job that his staff did to make it happen.

“It was a hectic recruiting (cycle), gosh, in April and May,” he said. “We had a lot of shorter visits this spring than we had in the past. We’d bring someone in on a Monday and get ’em out on Tuesday. Bring someone else in on Wednesday and get ’em out on Thursday.

“Our coaches really, really stepped up.

“(Mike) Peck and (Adam) Hood were involved in most of that recruiting early on before coach (Kurtis) Darden joined us. I thought they did a heck of a job. You know, we’ll see. We’ll find out with this roster, what it can do when it counts.”

It may count quite a bit, with this being the last year of Henson’s contract.

In analyzing his new roster, the coach emphasized that he will be able to play with three centers in 7-foot Carlton Linguard, Jr., 6-10 Trey Edmonds and 6-9 Massal Diouf in an effort to match up with opponents in the school’s first season in the American Athletic Conference.

“We’re excited with this group,” he said of the roster as a whole. “We’ve got a lot of versatility with this bunch.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had three centers like we have right now, in terms of size and defensive mindset, really, anywhere I’ve been.

“It’s something that’s so noticeable in our workouts right now, to have that type of physicality and presence and size at the center position.”

UTSA roster

Nazar Mahmoud, 6-5 guard, freshman
Jordan Ivy-Curry, 6-3 guard, junior
Carlton Linguard Jr., 7-0 center, redshirt senior
Trey Edmonds, 6-10 center/forward, junior
Dre Fuller Jr., 6-6 guard, graduate student
Adante’ Holiman, 6-0 point guard, sophomore
Chandler Cuthrell, 6-8 forward, junior
Isaiah Wyatt, 6-4 guard/forward, redshirt junior
Massal Diouf, 6-9 forward, sophomore
PJ Carter, 6-5 guard, junior
Christian Tucker, 6-3 guard, junior
Blessing Adesipe, 6-6 forward, junior
Justin Thomas, 6-7 guard, junior
x-Josh Reid, 6-7 forward, junior
x-Juan Reyna, 6-3 point guard, junior

Roster notes

Henson said that Ivy-Curry, who played last year at the University of the Pacific, and Thomas, a multi-skilled guard from Milwaukee, are considered two-time transfers and must get waivers from the NCAA for eligibility to play this season. Ivy-Curry, from La Marque, played in 2020-21 and 2021-22 at UTSA and then transferred to Pacific.

Edmonds (Utah Tech), Fuller (Central Florida), Holiman (UT Rio Grande Valley), Cuthrell (Odessa College), Wyatt (Chadron State, Neb.), Carter (Georgia Highlands) and Adesipe (Miles College, Montana) are eligible immediately, as is Mahmoud, a freshman from Spring Creek Academy in Plano. Fuller is making a comeback after sitting out all of last season.

Reid and Reyna are walk-ons.

Linguard sat out at UTSA last year after transferring in from Kansas State of the Big 12. He played in high school at San Antonio Stevens. Diouf and Tucker are the only two players on the roster to play for the Roadrunners last season.

Where are they?

Guards Japhet Medor, John Buggs III and DJ Richards, along with center Jacob Germany and forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, all played major roles for the Roadrunners last year and then elected to transfer.

This coming season, Buggs and Germany are with UTSA opponents in the American Athletic Conference. Buggs is at North Texas and Germany, a 6-11 forward, will play at Wichita State. Medor is on the roster at Fordham University in New York. Fordham is in the Atlantic 10. Addo-Ankrah is with the University of Denver in the Summit League.

Richards was announced at McNeese State earlier this summer but was not on that squad’s roster as of Wednesday afternoon.

Others from last year’s UTSA squad whose names are on college basketball rosters elsewhere are two who will play in San Antonio, including forwards Lamin Sabally at the University of the Incarnate Word and Lachlan Bofinger at St. Mary’s.

Forward Aleu Aleu is set to play at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Forward Josh Farmer and guard Azavier Johnson also elected to transfer.

McKenzie Adams is touched by the call to UTSA’s Hall of Fame

Former UTSA volleyball All-American McKenzie Adams salutes the crowd Friday night before a home match against Missouri State. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

Volleyball star McKenzie Adams was in the house again Friday night at the UTSA Convocation Center, and, just like old times, the crowd cheered her presence.

This time, the former All-American for the Roadrunners was introduced as an honoree in the inaugural class of the UTSA Athletics Hall of Fame.

McKenzie Adams, a two-time All-American at UTSA, greets old friends at the Convocation Center. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

As the crowd stood and showered her with applause, Adams flashed the ‘Birds Up’ sign to fans who attended the pre-game ceremony on the first day of the season.

Later, the Roadrunners (2-0) completed their second straight-sets victory of the day, this one over the Missouri State Bears. Earlier, they dispatched the Texas Southern Tigers.

The scene in the pre-game lead-up to the Missouri State game was emotional, with Adams walking in, only to be greeted by former teammates and also by well-wishers who were fortunate enough to see her play in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

With the crowd filling most of one side of the bleachers on the lower level, considerable volume was produced. Adams was clearly moved by the cheers. She loved it especially that some of her former teammates had gathered to greet her.

From days gone by, Jordan Kotara, Elise and Brandy Huskey, Paige Hamilton and a few others were on hand.

“It means everything that they showed up,” Adams said. “I didn’t know that they were going to come. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. You know, it takes six people on the court. To have them support me like this was a blessing. It was awesome.”

Adams, an athletic 6-foot-3 outside hitter, was humbled to get the call notifying her that she had made UTSA’s inaugural class.

“I’ve tried to put into words what it means,” she said. “To be a part of the inaugural class, it’s such an honor.”

Others who made the first class include former athletic director Lynn Hickey, former football coach Larry Coker, football player Marcus Davenport, basketball’s Devin Brown and track and field’s Tameka Roberts.

Adams, who grew up in Schertz and attended Steele High School, started her college career in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Virginia and then transferred to UTSA.

In her time with the Roadrunners, playing for former UTSA head coach Laura Neugebauer Groff, she earned honorable mention All-American honors as a junior in 2012 and then made the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America third team as a senior in 2013.

“I knew Virginia was not the place for me,” Adams said. “So I came back home, like a little lost puppy, not sure what I was going to do or where I was going to go. Laura reached out and kind of took me in and said, ‘We got a home for you here.’

“The rest is history.”

Not only did Adams reap all-conference honors each year she played in college, her teams won most of the time.

At UTSA, the Roadrunners went 67-28 overall and 40-8 combined in seasons spanning the Southland, the Western Athletic and Conference USA.

After UTSA lost to Texas A&M in the 2013 NCAA volleyball tournament, she answered the call and extended her college athletic career just a bit longer, playing basketball for former coach Luby Lichonczak.

“Obviously winning is going to be the best memory,” she said of her time on the UTSA campus. “But just being around the girls, being around the team, those were my best friends. I’m just grateful to them and everything that we got to do together.”

In the pros, Adams has pretty much seen it all, living in outposts such as Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; Aachen and Schwerin in Germany; Istanbul in Turkey and both Conegliano and Novara in northern Italy.

“Volleyball’s allowed me to travel the world,” she said. “Not even playing, after the season, I’ve been to Croatia. I’ve been to Greece. I’ve been to places in Turkey. I’ve been able to experience different cultures. It’s been absolutely amazing.”

Now, in a few days, she’ll have her bags packed for a trip to Japan to play another season on a one-year contract. Not bad for a 31-year-old gym rat.

“I’ve always said, until they stop paying me, I’ll keep showing up,” she said.


UTSA downed Texas Southern 25-19, 25-14 and 25-15 on Friday morning before returning for the nightcap and whitewashing Missouri State, 25-21, 25-12, 25-19. UTSA will host Texas A&M-Commerce on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Ivan Melendez cranks out three hits to boost Amarillo

Sod Poodles designated hitter Ivan Melendez. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 4-2 on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sod Poodles DH Ivan Melendez, a former college Player of the Year for the Texas Longhorns, went 3 for 4 at the plate last night against the Missions. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Amarillo Sod Poodles maintained a one-game lead in the Texas League South division’s second-half race Thursday night, downing the San Antonio Missions 4-2 at Wolff Stadium.

Former University of Texas star Ivan Melendez led Amarillo with three hits, a run scored and an RBI.

Melendez, from El Paso, is batting .288 in 33 games for the Sod Poodles since he was called up to Double A. He has 12 homers for Amarillo and 30 on the season, counting 18 that he hit for the Advanced A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in the Northwest League.

With the Missions holding a 2-1 edge on the Sod Poodles in the series, the teams will play three more games at Wolff this week, starting tonight at 7:05 p.m. The series wraps up with another 7:05 p.m. game on Saturday, followed by a 1:05 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Sod Poodles designated hitter Ivan Melendez. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 4-2 on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Ivan Melendez holds his bat high as he prepares to hit for the Amarillo Sod Poodles. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Ivan Melendez of the Amarillo Sod Poodles playing against the San Antonio Missions on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Melendez has played third base and has also been the designated hitter.. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Teen baseball prodigy delivers a walk-off winner in his San Antonio Missions debut

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Teenage baseball prodigy Ethan Salas popped out to the infield in the third inning and took a called third strike in the fifth. He walked in the sixth and then flied out in the eighth.

Ethan Salas gets doused by his teammates after his walkoff double in the 10th inning of his San Antonio Missions debut on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Ethan Salas gets doused by his teammates after his walkoff double in the 10th inning of his San Antonio Missions debut. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Overall, the No. 5 overall prospect in the minors had not dazzled anyone in his first game with the San Antonio Missions to that point — until he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th.

After pinch-runner Connor Hollis stole second base, Salas sent a jolt of electricity through the home crowd at Wolff Stadium, stroking a line-drive double into the gap in right center.

Suddenly, the fans were on their feet. Hollis was churning around third and headed for home, clenching a fist just as he scored the winning run in an 8-7 victory for the Missions over the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Salas, who turned 17 in June, had won the game in dramatic walk-off style. Afterward, Missions manager Luke Montz praised the ball player’s composure.

“Just meeting the kid today, the guy wants to play baseball,” Montz said. “He wants to get after it. He tells you he wants to get better every day … He’s got a lot to work on, in his game and stuff like that, but he showed in his last at bat, there’s a lot of tools in there. He hits a walk off double. With composure, he controls the game in that situation and he puts good wood on the ball.”

Playing the opener of a six-game home series against the second-half leaders in the Texas League South division, the Missions fell behind 5-0 and 6-2 but didn’t give in.

“Any time you can come back and win a baseball game and walk it off in the bottom of the 10th, it’s always huge for your ball club,” Montz said. “It’s exciting. It’s an exciting moment for your ball club. You look at how we won. Down by five and chipped away. Got to give it all to those guys. They played hard from start to finish and came out on top at the end of the ball game.”

The game marked a new beginning of sorts for the Missions, who won the TL South in first half and then slumped, entering the regular season’s home stretch three games under .500. Five new players were promoted to their roster, including Salas, Nathan Martorella, Jakob Marsee, Graham Pauley and Robbie Snelling.

Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the 10th, a few of the newbies sparked the game-winning rally.

The inning opened as Pauley took the field as the designated runner at second base. Martorella, who had three hits on the night, tied the game with a single to center field.

Hollis, pinch-running for Martorella, stole second base with one out, setting the stage for Salas. Batting from the left side, he worked a 3-2 count against Mitchell Stumpo before stroking his first hit as a Double-A ball player.

In January, Salas was regarded as the top international prospect in the game by both Baseball America and MLB.com. A Florida native, the Venezuelan ball player signed a reported $5.6 million contract Padres.

After going through Padres’ spring training, he started his pro career at Single A Lake Elsinore in the California League and then moved up briefly to Advanced A Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. Between the two, Salas played 57 games and hit for a .257 average.

Salas was particularly impressive in 48 games at Lake Elsinore, hitting for a .267 average, while smashing nine home runs and driving in 35 runs.