Charlotte wins series opener as UTSA’s six-game winning streak comes to an end

Charlotte pitcher Cole Reynolds. Charlotte beat UTSA 10-5 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Charlotte lefthander Cole Reynolds pitched five innings, limiting explosive UTSA to two runs on four hits to earn the victory. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners struck first Friday night, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second inning. Undaunted, the visiting Charlotte 49ers took a deep breath and retaliated with four of their own in the top of the third, and then they cruised the rest of the way to a 10-5 victory.

With the win, the 49ers claimed the opener of a three-game series and snapped the Roadrunners’ six-game winning streak. Afterward, Charlotte coach Robert Woodard said he expects nothing less than a “relentless” effort by UTSA over the next few days in an effort to make amends.

“Coach (Pat) Hallmark’s team is one of the most relentless we play every single year,” Woodard said. “They’re such a hard-nosed group. We knew that coming in. And I’d like to think they feel the same way about our club.

Andrew Stucky. Charlotte beat UTSA 10-5 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Andrew Stucky went two for three at the plate in the series opener against Charlotte. He also had an RBI and scored a run in the second inning. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I think it’s just a mutual respect,” he added. “You just roll up your sleeves and go at it for the weekend. So, yeah, it’s a great start to the weekend for us. But, as you know, tomorrow’s game will be here before you know it.”

Records

Charlotte 14-16, 4-3
UTSA 17-13, 5-2

Coming up

Charlotte at UTSA, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Charlotte at UTSA, Sunday, noon

Notable

The Roadrunners entered the game with high hopes. Not only had they won six straight, but they had started off play in the American Athletic Conference with a two games-to-one home series victory over the nationally-ranked East Carolina Pirates and a three-game road sweep over the Tulane Green Wave.

On top of that, they had freshman Robert Orloski on the mound, and Orloski had just started to deliver over the past few weeks with some quality outings. After the two-run second inning, the Roadrunners felt even better.

The home crowd at Roadrunner Field was getting loud and boisterous after Andrew Stucky stroked an RBI double and then scored all the way from second on a wild pitch by Charlotte starter Cole Reynolds. After the ball caromed away from home plate, 49ers catcher Kaden Hopson couldn’t find it, allowing Stucky to round third and score easily.

Mason Lytle. Charlotte beat UTSA 10-5 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Mason Lytle had two hits in four at bats to extend his batting streak to 16 games. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As it turned out, the play may have been the last consequential break for the Roadrunners all night. The 49ers scored four runs off Orloski in their next turn, with the big blow coming on a two-out, bases-loaded triple by freshman Reid Haire.

Momentarily, while Haire’s batted ball sailed deep into the outfield, it seemed that UTSA centerfielder Mason Lytle might catch it. But on its descent, it veered away from Lytle, possibly because of a swirling wind, and bounced off the wall. Lytle, back-tracking, hit the wall, too. In the aftermath, Brandon Stahlman, Noah Furcht and Carson Bayne all scored to make it a 4-2 ballgame.

The 49ers added another run in the fourth, chasing Orloski (3-3) to the showers after 3 and 2/3 innings. Though the freshman righthander from Idaho had his moments, striking out six, he also gave up five runs on seven hits and took the loss. Meanwhile, Charlotte starter Cole Reynolds (4-3) settled in and completed five innings for the victory.

Reynolds, a lefty, was far from dominant. He struck out only two and walked three, but he limited UTSA to four hits, keeping batters off balance by changing speeds and throwing what looked like a sinker that veered in on the hands of left-handed batters and away from the righthanders.

AJ Wilson, another lefty, replaced Reynolds to open the sixth inning and dialed up much the same formula for success. The Roadrunners didn’t hit many balls hard off either pitcher. On top of that, the 49ers were making seemingly all the plays in the field. One that stood out was a play by rightfielder Johnny Sutryk in the bottom of the third.

With a UTSA baserunner at first and nobody out, Mason Lytle doubled into the right field corner. Sutryk came up throwing and fired all the way to third, where Stahlman slapped the tag on a sliding Hector Rodriguez for the out.

A scary moment

Trailing by six runs, the Roadrunners scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to make it an 8-4 game. But on the last play of the inning, a delayed steal that brought in a runner from third base, UTSA’s Tye Odom went down with an injury.

The play started with Lytle at third and Odom at first. Then, a pitch was delivered to the catcher. After running half-way to second base and drawing a throw from the catcher to the shortstop covering second, Odom stopped and back-tracked, with the 49ers trying to catch him between the bases before Lytle crossed home.

But after Lytle raced home and scored, 49ers shortstop Dante DeFranco tossed to the first baseman.

With Odom trying to scramble back to first base, he seemed to stumble, with one of his legs buckling under him momentarily. After getting tagged out, Odom stayed down, as both a UTSA trainer and the head coach ran to his side. He was helped off the field — at least part of the way — by a couple of teammates. As he neared the dugout, he put weight on the injured leg and attempted to walk in with his teammates still at his side.

No word yet on the extent of the injury.

Tye Odom. Charlotte beat UTSA 10-5 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Tye Odom produced a hit in four at bats but had to leave the game in the seventh inning with an injury. Odom ranks as one of the team’s best in batting average. He entered the game hitting .357 – Photo by Joe Alexander

Baseball: First-place Roadrunners to host the always-dangerous Charlotte 49ers

Mason Lytle. UTSA lost to UT-Arlington 10-9 in the Roadrunners' baseball season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Mason Lytle (No. 3) leads the American Athletic Conference in hitting at .405 entering a series against Charlotte tonight at Roadrunner Field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

In a development that should be welcomed by fans of the UTSA Roadrunners, slugging outfielder Cam Fisher is playing professional baseball this spring.

As the 131st pick in the draft last summer, he is now toiling in the Houston Astros’ organization, preparing to suit up in the coming days for the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists in the High-A South Atlantic League.

Last year, Fisher put on a power show for the ages with the Charlotte 49ers, slamming 30 home runs, all while leading his collegiate team to the Conference USA postseason title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

His performance comes to mind today as the 49ers prepare to open a three-game series in San Antonio at Roadrunner Field.

Last year, Coach Robert Woodard’s team emerged as one of only a few to gain the upper hand on UTSA in head-to-head matchups. Charlotte won two of three against UTSA, splitting two in the regular season and then claiming an 11-2 victory on May 25 in Houston at the C-USA tournament.

It was a crushing season-ending loss for the Roadrunners, who had won 38 games and finished second in conference, only to bow out of the double-elimination tournament at 0-2.

The 49ers, who also had lost on opening day, used it as a springboard to win five straight in four days en route to claiming the C-USA postseason crown and the NCAA automatic bid.

A year later, the two teams meet again. The Roadrunners will host the 49ers in an American Athletic Conference series opener that starts at 6 tonight. Tomorrow, they’ll play at 2 p.m., followed by a Sunday matinee that will get underway at noon.

I didn’t get a chance to chat with any of the Roadrunners this week, but I doubt that the last game of last season is at the top of anyone’s mind right now.

In fact, Matt King and Caleb Hill are probably going to be the only two position players on the field for UTSA tonight who also started in the field against Charlotte last May in Houston, at Reckling Park.

But most interesting, to me, is the contrast in what is happening with the two ball clubs right now, balanced against their recent history.

From the historical perspective, Charlotte has the edge, with two NCAA tournament appearances (2021 and 2023) in the past four seasons. UTSA, meanwhile, hasn’t had an NCAA trip in 11 years.

Under Coach Pat Hallmark, the Roadrunners have won 38 games in each of the past two seasons, only to come up short of the national tournament each time.

Now, here we are, with the 49ers incoming.

In the here and now, the Roadrunners are rolling, having won six games in a row and seven of eight, including a two-of-three series victory at home over powerhouse East Carolina and a three-game road sweep last week at Tulane.

UTSA (17-12, 5-1) shares the lead in the American with Wichita State, while Charlotte (13-16, 3-3) is showing signs of progress but hasn’t quite put it all together just yet. Even though the 49ers won two of three at home last week against the South Florida Bulls, their record over the past months indicates some unresolved issues.

For Charlotte, a six-game losing streak replete with problems in scoring runs ended only on March 24 with a 13-1 road win at Florida Atlantic.

At the same time, even without a Cam Fisher, an Austin Knight, a Jack Dragum or any of the other departed standouts that made the 49ers so dangerous last season, I have a feeling that they will show up at Roadrunner Field tonight ready to play and do damage.

My forecast? I don’t know who will win the series, but I do have a feeling that a highly-competitive three days of college baseball is looming.

Coming up

Tonight: Charlotte at UTSA, 6 p.m.
Saturday: Charlotte at UTSA, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Charlotte at UTSA, noon

Records

Charlotte 13-16, 3-3
UTSA 17-12, 5-1

UTSA rallies past UIW, 7-4, extends winning streak to six

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners extended their winning streak to a season-high six games Tuesday afternoon with a 7-4 victory over the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals.

Within the six-game streak, the Roadrunners have played their last five games on the road and have won them all.

The Cardinals, playing at home at Sullivan Field on a sunny afternoon, took a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Roadrunners starter Fischer Kingsbery. Dalton Beck’s RBI single brought in the first run, and Ryan Scott followed with a two-run homer off the foul pole in right field.

The Roadrunners came alive with five runs in the fourth. First, Tye Odom ripped a two-run double. Then, Broc Parmer added an RBI single. Mason Lytle capped the uprising with a two-run single to right for a 5-3 lead.

Lytle went two for five to extend his batting streak to 15 games.

UTSA hasn’t lost since March 23 in a 14-10 setback at home to the then 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates. Since then, the Roadrunners closed out an American Athletic Conference home series with a 6-5 victory over the Pirates.

A few days later, they started their road trek, winning 9-7 at Baylor, followed by a three-game AAC sweep at Tulane.

The Roadrunners won 6-3, 11-7 and 12-6 in New Orleans for their first sweep of a conference series on the road since the 2015 season.

Records

UTSA 17-12
Incarnate Word 15-12

Coming up

(AAC) Charlotte at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
(AAC) Charlotte at UTSA, Saturday, 2 p.m.
(AAC) Charlotte at UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Notable

Utility man Isaiah Walker, considered one of the ball club’s best players, played in a game for the first time since the second day of the regular season. Walker started at second base and went one for three at the plate. He last played on Feb. 17 at home against UT Arlington when he suffered a hamstring injury.

UTSA wins 12-6 to sweep three games from Tulane on the road

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Red-hot Mason Lytle homered in his fourth straight three-hit performance Sunday afternoon as the UTSA Roadrunners recorded an American Athletic Conference series sweep on the road with a 12-6 victory over the Tulane Green Wave.

Playing their inaugural season as members of the American, the Roadrunners took three games in three days against the Green Wave and moved into a tie for first with the Wichita State Shockers.

Records

UTSA 16-12, 5-1
Tulane 15-13, 2-4

Coming up

UTSA at Incarnate Word, Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Notable

For UTSA, the road sweep was the program’s first in conference play since March of 2015 at Marshall. In addition, the victory was UTSA’s fifth straight, a season high.

Lytle continued his hot hitting with a three-for-five day. The junior from Pearland High School, a transfer from Oregon, hit safely in his 14th straight game. In that span, Lytle has 32 hits in 67 at bats for a .477 average.

In a streak within a streak, he also has recorded multiple hits in 11 straight games, including four straight with three hits. For the season, Lytle’s batting average is listed at .405. He entered the day leading the American in that category.

In the series finale, Hector Rodriguez and Caleb Hill also produced big numbers at the plate. Rodriguez had three hits and three RBIs. Hill had two hits and two RBIs.

Lytle’s homer came in the fourth inning, a three-run shot that he pulled to left field. The blast lifted the Roadrunners into a 6-2 lead.

Starting pitcher Ulises Quiroga (2-0) set a career-high by working seven innings. The righthander from Baytown allowed two runs on four hits. Quiroga walked three and struck out five.

UTSA clinches its first AAC road series with an 11-7 victory over Tulane

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners scored four runs in the top of the first inning Friday night and cruised to their fourth straight win, an 11-7 road victory over the Tulane Green Wave.

With the win, the Roadrunners also clinched their first road series in the American Athletic Conference. UTSA has won two straight games in the past two nights at Tulane, in New Orleans, going into Saturday’s series finale.

UTSA, breaking out with 17 hits, won the game with offense. But the defense played well, committing only one error, and the pitching with Zach Royse and Daniel Garza seemed to get tough when it counted.

Garza (2-1) earned the victory by pitching 5 and 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs on six hits and struck out seven. Garza shut out Tulane in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

On offense, Tye Odom produced four hits and three RBIs. Mayson Lytle had three hits in extending his streak with at least one hit to 13 games, during which he has produced a .468 batting average. He has had multiple hits in his last 10 games.

Records

UTSA 15-12, 4-1
Tulane 15-12, 2-3

Coming up

UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, noon.

Notable

UTSA strung together five straight hits and scored four runs in the first inning off Tulane righthander Chandler Welch. With one out, Mason Lytle singled to left, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.

Alex Olivo followed with a long fly ball, a single, that was dropped at the wall. Since Lytle couldn’t risk running full speed, he stopped at second. At that point, UTSA started to play aggressively, executing a hit and run with Matt King, who laced an RBI single to center.

On the next play, with runners at first and second, Tulane caught a break when James Taussig’s hot shot to the right side hit King on the foot. As a baserunner, King was out automatically and Taussig was on first with a single.

From there, the Roadrunners exploded, with Tye Odom smashing a long fly ball that got over the center fielder’s head for a two-run triple. On the play, a relay throw was wild and skipped into the Tulane dugout. Odom was awarded an extra base, and he scored to make it 4-0.

Baseball: UTSA rolls past Tulane 6-3 in series opener at New Orleans

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners on Thursday kept playing winning baseball in the early days of the American Athletic Conference race, cruising to a 6-3 road victory over the Tulane Green Wave.

In the first game of a three-game series at New Orleans, UTSA took charge behind the pitching of Rob Orloski and Ruger Riojas and the hitting of Mason Lytle, Matt King and Tye Odom.

Orloski allowed only one run on five hits in the first 4 and 1/3 innings, followed by the final 4 and 2/3 from Riojas.

Riojas gave up two runs on three hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth by Colin Tuft, to end the game. He struck out seven and walked none and picked up the win, improving his record to 5-0.

Tulane lefthander Luc Fladda (0-1) took the loss despite pitching fairly well. He yielded only three runs on six hits. Fladda had the Roadrunners swinging and missing, striking out eight.

Lytle, UTSA’s leadoff man, extended his hitting streak to 12 games. He went three for five for his ninth straight multi-hit game.

King, batting second, had four hits in five at bats, including two doubles and an RBI. Odom delivered with a solo homer in the fourth inning.

The Roadrunners entered the series on an upswing, having won two of three at home last week against the nationally-ranked East Carolina Pirates. The Roadrunners also won a non-conference road game Tuesday night, beating the Baylor Bears, 9-7, in Waco.

Records

UTSA 14-12, 3-1
Tulane 15-11, 2-2

Coming up

UTSA at Tulane, Friday, 6:30 p.m.; UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, noon.

Baseball: UTSA wins on the road at Baylor, 9-7

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Hector Rodriguez stroked a go-ahead, two-run double and Caleb Hill followed with an RBI single in the seventh inning Tuesday, helping the UTSA Roadrunners rally to down the Baylor Bears 9-7 in Waco.

Trailing by one run with two outs in the seventh, the Roadrunners came alive when Rodriguez pulled a hard ground ball just inside the bag at first and into the right field corner, scoring two runs to make it 8-7.

Caleb Hill followed with his third hit of the night, an RBI single, to make it 9-7.

Braylon Owens (2-1) completed a two-inning relief effort by shutting out the Bears in the bottom of the seventh. He earned the win.

Fischer Kingsbery worked the eighth and Ruger Riojas pitched the ninth for his third save in the team’s last four games.

Last weekend, UTSA won its first series of games against a Top-10 opponent, taking two of three at home against the East Carolina Pirates.

Two days after an emotional 6-5 victory over the Pirates in the inaugural series as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the Roadrunners followed with their second win in Waco in two years.

In the more than 30-year history of games between the teams, Baylor holds a wide lead in the series, 36-10, including 26-6 in its home ball park.

UTSA has started to make some progress, however, winning 8-3 last year and winning again this season for the first back-to-back victories against Baylor since 1994.

A concern for the Roadrunners developed late in the game after Hill got his hit in the seventh and ran to first base. A trainer came out to check on him. Though he remained on the field, he pulled up slightly running to second base after a Mason Lytle single.

A few minutes later, UTSA coaches took their leading hitter out of the game and sent a defensive replacement into the outfield.

Regardless, it was another big night for the Roadrunners, who continue to swing hot bats. Entering the game batting better than .300 as a team, they had 15 hits against the Bears, including three by Hill and three by Lytle.

UTSA also showed resilience, rallying from deficits of 5-3 after three innings and 7-5 after four. In addition, the team showed it was capable of winning in the mid-week, evening its record to 3-3 in games played on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Roadrunners have a weekend series in the American Athletic Conference on the horizon, as they’re set to play three in three days starting Thursday in New Orleans against Tulane.

Records

UTSA 13-12
Baylor 8-16

Coming up

(AAC) UTSA at Tulane, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
(AAC) UTSA at Tulane, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
(AAC) UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, noon

Baseball: UTSA wins inaugural AAC series against 10th-ranked East Carolina

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Mason Lytle ignited the offense early. Daniel Garza and Ruger Riojas pitched with a purpose at the end. As it turned out, the UTSA Roadrunners claimed a 6-5 victory Sunday over the 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates

In their first weekend of play as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the Roadrunners won two of three off the defending champions. It is the first time in the history of the program that UTSA has won a series against a Top-10 opponent.
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In Game 1 on Friday night, freshman Rob Orloski combined with Riojas to pitch the Roadrunners to a 4-2 victory over East Carolina and All American Trey Yesavage. On Saturday, the Pirates bounced back, winning 14-10 behind a 16-hit attack.

UTSA claimed the rubber match on a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon at Roadrunner Field despite four home runs by the hard-hitting visitors from Greenville, N.C.

East Carolina kept pounding away all day with homers by Justin Wilcoxen, Dixon Williams, Joey Berini and Ryan McCrystal.

The Roadrunners took charge early, leading 2-0 after one inning and 4-1 after two as centerfielder Mason Lytle and catcher Broc Parmer led the way.

In the top of the first, Parmer back-handed a ball on a pitch that hit the turf. He came up and threw out Clark Cunningham trying to take second base to end the inning. Later, Lytle ignited the offense with a one-out single and a stolen base.

To cap the bottom of the first, Parmer doubled to left and drove in a run to make it 2-0. Thanks to the pitching and the defense, the Roadrunners would hold on to the lead for the remainder of the afternoon.

A pitching threesome of Ulises Quiroga, Garza and Riojas got the job done. Quiroga started and worked four innings. Though he gave up three runs, he also kept the Roadrunners in the game with a sharp breaking pitch. He struck out four.

Garza entered in the fifth inning and worked into the eighth. Pounding the strike zone and walking none, he seemed to be in full control to all but two batters. Perini touched him for a two-out solo homer in the sixth. Later, McCrystal launched a solo shot of his own to lead off the eighth.

After the McCrystal blast cleared the wall in left and pulled East Carolina to within 6-5, UTSA coach Pat Hallmark called on Riojas, his ace, who threw 41 pitches in a three-inning save Friday night. Riojas promptly registered two strikeouts and induced a ground ball to end it.

In the ninth, the Pirates threatened again when Cunningham delivered a two-out double into the left-center gap. Riojas finished the game by getting Jacob Jenkins-Cowart to bounce a ball to shortstop Matt King, who fired to first for the third out.

Riojas, in all, worked two scoreless innings, allowing only a hit, while striking out two. In the process, he lowered his earned run average to 1.44.

Lytle, a transfer from the University of Oregon, continued his strong play. He finished the game two for four to extend his hitting streak to 10 games and raise his batting average to .371. He stole three bases and scored twice.

Defensively, Lytle made a diving catch in center in the second inning for his second gem of the weekend.

Parmer, one of three newcomers to play catcher for the Roadrunners this season, is making a bid for the lead role. He made multiple stops on pitches that were difficult to handle, including one when the Pirates had a runner at third base. At bat, he finished three for four with two doubles, lifting his average to .358.

Alex Olivo and Zane Spinn also had two hits in the Roadrunners’ 10-hit attack. Olivo delivered an RBI single in the first. Spinn had an RBI double in the second and later scored on a Caleb Hill sacrifice fly to make it 4-1.

Records

East Carolina 16-6, 1-2
UTSA 12-12, 2-1

Coming up

UTSA at Baylor, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Pirates rough up Roadrunners’ pitching in 14-10 victory

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates exploded for 16 hits Saturday afternon en route to a 14-10 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners in the American Athletic Conference.

Tye Odom crushed a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to bring the Roadrunners to within two runs of the lead.

But the Pirates, who had scored six runs of their own in the eighth, answered with two more in the top of the ninth to put the game away.

Reliever Danny Beal shut down UTSA in its last at bat to secure the victory.

With the win, the Pirates rebounded from a 4-2 loss to the Roadrunners Friday night and evened the American Athletic Conference series at one win apiece.

The series finale is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Roadrunner Field.

Records

East Carolina 16-5, 1-1
UTSA 11-12, 1-1

Coming up

Series finale: East Carolina at UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m.

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.

Records

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