Baseball: UTSA knocks off 10th-ranked East Carolina, 4-2

UTSA’s Matt King singles off East Carolina ace Trey Yesavage to drive in Mason Lytle in the first inning. – video by The JB Replay

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

With a gusting wind blowing into the hitters’ faces all afternoon and into the evening, the elements seemed to favor the 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates and All-American pitcher Trey Yesavage.

The odds seemed to be stacked heavily against the home-team UTSA Roadrunners in their debut game in the American Athletic Conference.

Rob Orloski. UTSA beat 10th-ranked East Carolina 4-2 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, March 24, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Rob Orloski allowed one run in six innings to earn the victory, improving his record to 3-2 on the season. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Yesavage, after all, came into the AAC opener for both teams undefeated at 4-0, with a 1.20 earned run average.

Undeterred, UTSA played its finest game of the season and defeated Yesavage and the Pirates, 4-2, on Friday night at Roadrunner Field.

“It feels great,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “You know, their pitcher is really good. I’m impressed (with) and proud of our hitters, on a night the wind’s blowing in. If we won, I thought the score would be 2-1 or 3-2. We didn’t score a ton. But it’s hard to score four runs on that guy with the wind blowing out.”

Two nights after losing 14-13 at Texas State on a night when UTSA walked 11 batters, the Roadrunners’ pitching stood tall against the four-time defending regular-season champions in the AAC.

Freshman Rob Orloski (3-2) pitched six innings for the victory and relief ace Ruger Riojas worked the final three for his second save.

“It’s a great feeling,” Riojas said. “So far since I’ve been here, it’s the best game I’ve been involved with. It’s very motivating to beat what I would say is the best mid-major (team) in the country.”

While Orloski allowed nine hits and one run in his six innings, he was solid in throwing strikes when he needed them. He walked only one and struck out two.

Riojas, in turn, was electric. The sophomore from Wimberley seemed content in throwing fastballs at a team with a .299 average, and he proved successful, allowing only three hits and an unearned run.

Ruger Riojas. UTSA beat 10th-ranked East Carolina 4-2 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, March 24, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA relief ace Ruger Riojas limited East Carolina to three hits and an unearned run in three innings to pick up his second save. – Photo by Joe Alexander

He walked one and struck out four.

The top of the eighth inning yielded high drama for the fans. With the Pirates at bat, trailing by three runs and facing Riojas, they started a rally when Jacob Jenkins-Cowart led off, smashing a ground ball that went through the legs of UTSA second baseman Diego Diaz for an error.

Next, Riojas seemed a little rattled and walked Jacob Starling, putting runners at first and second base with nobody out.

From there, though, the UTSA righthander became extremely tough. Pitching to the next man, Justin Wilcoxen, Riojas threw inside on a pitch that sounded as if it might have hit something just before it zipped into the catcher’s mitt.

The umpire’s call was a ball and not a hit by pitch, so, in response, East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin called for a video review.

The review was lengthy, with Riojas throwing at least five or six times to keep warm, before home plate ump Doug Williams returned and confirmed the original call.

Even with the delay, Riojas seemed unruffled, and he responded by striking out Wilcoxen. Next, he fanned Bristol Carter. Nearly out of the inning, Riojas was stung when Ryan McCrystal fisted one into center for an RBI single, trimming the UTSA lead to 4-2.

Matt King. UTSA beat 10th-ranked East Carolina 4-2 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, March 24, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Shortstop Matt King made all the plays in the field and also went two for three at the plate with an RBI. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With runners still aboard at first and second, Joey Berini stepped into the box and bounced a weak grounder to first for the third out.

In the ninth, Riojas retired the Pirates in order to secure the victory.

Afterward, the sophomore addressed the media and acknowledged that his memory of the details in the game were a bit of a blur.

“I don’t remember much,” Riojas said. “I just remember Rob being on his game. He was executing every pitch and taking advantage of them. He threw amazing. Like, we couldn’t have done this without him, 100 percent.

“Outfield, too. Outfield had a lot of range tonight. I think it was good. Especially with the wind coming in, playing those fly balls. I think they did their part. The infield, they did their job.”

Outfielder Mason Lytle, with two hits, two runs scored and a run-saving catch in center field in the fifth, emerged as another key component in UTSA’s second Top 10 victory at home in the past three seasons.

With a baserunner at third and two outs in the top of the fifth, Carter Cunningham drilled a line drive that started hooking, carrying it away from Lytle, who was running in and veering off to the side.

He left his feet, dove and made the catch while sliding on his chest and stomach, prompting even some of the East Carolina fans to cheer the play.

“Those plays are like home runs,” Hallmark said. “They’re great plays, but people don’t equate them to home runs. Because it takes a run off the board for them. You know, and they’d still be batting. One run would score and they’d still be batting, so it was huge.”

Pat Hallmark. UTSA beat 10th-ranked East Carolina 4-2 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, March 24, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA, under coach Pat Hallmark, has scored two Top 10 victories at home in the past three seasons. The first came in 2022 when the Roadrunners beat the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal, 6-5, in 10 innings. The second came Friday night in a 4-2 win over the 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In 2022, UTSA defeated No. 2 Stanford, 6-5, in 10 innings at Roadrunner Field. This time, in contrast, the victory over East Carolina may have meant more simply because it came in the program’s inaugural game in the AAC.

Also because they beat Yesavage, who is considered one of the top pitching prospects going into the 2024 draft. An ESPN television commentator said he counted 18 pro scouts at the game.

All the attention seemed to motivate the Roadrunners, who nicked him for four runs on eight hits in five innings. The 6-foot-4 righthander from Boyertown, Pa., walked one and struck out five.

The Roadrunners scored one run in the first inning and three more in the third off Yesavage, who seemed to be having problems locating pitches, particularly his breaking ball.

In the first, the East Carolina ace yielded consecutive one-out singles to Lytle, Alex Olivo and Matt King. With runners at first and second, King drilled a ball in the hole between third and shortstop to score Lytle, making it 1-0.

In the third, Lytle and Olivo set the table again, with Lytle smacking a single and Olivo drawing a walk. King executed a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, and then Broc Parmer and James Taussig rifled back-to-back RBI singles through the right side of the infield.

With runners at first and third, Tye Odom sacrifice bunted to the right side of the pitcher’s mound, allowing Parmer to score from third to make it 4-0.

East Carolina finally broke through to score off Orloski in the sixth inning, with Bristol Carter supplying the RBI single. Jenkins-Cowart, who started the rally with a leadoff single, came home from third to score the Pirates’ first run.


East Carolina 15-5, 0-1
UTSA 11-11, 1-0

Coming up

Second game of a three-game series, East Carolina at UTSA, Saturday at 2 p.m. The finale is Sunday at 1 p.m. Both at Roadrunner Field on the UTSA campus.

Rob Orloski. UTSA beat 10th-ranked East Carolina 4-2 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, March 24, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

In Rob Orloski’s last two outings as a pitcher, the UTSA freshman from Idaho has allowed two earned runs on 13 hits in 11 innings. – Photo by Joe Alexander

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