Two weeks ago, Pat Hallmark emerged from the clubhouse and walked out to the field, bundled up in a coat to ward off the cold from a low 40s-type day in South Texas. Some of his players sensed an opening to have some fun. A few of them remarked, “Hey coach, it’s just how we like it.”
It’s a refrain heard often around Roadrunner Field this time of year. It’s a mindset that Hallmark, UTSA’s third-year coach, always tries to instill in his players when they’re pushing through practices in late January and early February in preparation for the start of the college baseball season.
Some days, though, the cold just doesn’t allow for any type of workout. Such was the case a few weeks ago.
“That weekend, we didn’t (practice at all on Thursday) and we didn’t play intrasquad on Friday,” the coach said. “We basically got all the pitching in on Saturday and Sunday. We really didn’t miss anything. Just got pushed back a day.
“Last weekend, it sorted itself back out. (We played regularly-scheduled intrasquad games) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So we didn’t miss anything. It was just a little colder.”
The Roadrunners may need to break out the long sleeves again this weekend in Stephenville when they open their season with a three-game series against the Tarleton State Texans. Start times Friday and Saturday are at 6 p.m., with the finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.
On Friday and Saturday night, temperatures at the Tarleton State Baseball Complex could dip into the 40s, according to the forecast online at weather.com. “Again, we’re prepared,” Hallmark said. “The guys are 100 percent ready.”
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Hallmark expressed optimism about his team’s prospects leading into the road trip to Tarleton, another game at TCU next Wednesday night and then the home-opening series starting Feb. 25. UTSA will host Seattle for four games from Feb. 25-27, followed by a matchup against Stanford on Feb. 28.
“You’re always hopeful and encouraged,” he said. “I think we’ll win some games here early. I think we’ll win some games throughout the year. But we’ve got to go do it, right. I would hope I would think that, (but) the pitching looks good.”
Last season, pitching problems haunted the Roadrunners as they finished 22-26 and got bounced out of the Conference USA tournament in two straight. Despite an offense that ranked as one of the best statistically in the nation, the pitching was among the least effective, with an earned run average of 5.92 and a WHIP of 1.62.
Sensing that the pitching would need an overhaul even before last season, Hallmark and his staff have added some talented young arms to mesh with some veterans who are throwing the ball better. “More days than not, the pitching seems to be winning,” Hallmark said. “It’s a good sign.”
On the first weekend, UTSA is expected to start senior righthander Jacob Jimenez on Friday, followed by lefty grad student Grant Miller on Saturday and freshman righty Braylon Owens on Sunday. The staff, as a whole, just seems to please the head coach.
“We’ve got a lot of new players on the mound,” Hallmark said. “And then, some of the returning players have improved. They just throw more quality pitches.”
Hallmark mentioned Owens, Ryan Beaird and Braden Davis as freshmen who have worked their way into the mix to pitch in games early this season for the Roadrunners. Also, junior college transfers Ulises Quiroga and Allen Smith have shown promise.
“At the end of the day, you just got to throw strikes and you got to create some hitting problems (for the opponent),” Hallmark said. “So we’ll be better able to do that this year, and some of it will be … you’ll see some plain ol’ new people out there.”
Hallmark, who started at UTSA in the 2020 season cut short by the Covid-19 crisis, is hopeful that his staff’s recruiting efforts will yield improved play on defense, as well.
“We’ve just tried to constantly improve the quality of the athlete on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “It’s not always that easy. Because they got to hit. You might be able to find seven or eight fast athletic kids. But if they can’t hit, you know, you got to be able to score, too. So that’s always a challenge.”
Opening-day starters Friday night are expected to be:
Pitcher — Jacob Jimenez
Catcher — Josh Killeen
First base — Ryan Flores
Second base — Leyton Barry
Shortstop — Kody Darcy
Third base — Austin Ochoa
Right field — Chase Keng
Center field — Jonathan Tapia
Left field — Ian Bailey
Designated hitter — Garrett Poston
As for the hitting? Batting stars Nick Thornquist, Griffin Paxton and Dylan Rock have all played out their eligibility. But it’s expected that the Roadrunners will score some runs, because Hallmark’s teams usually do.
Last year, Barry and Keng both hit better than .300 and slugged at nearly .600 for the Roadrunners. Darcy, a transfer from Xavier in Cincinnati, came in with the reputation as a defensive player but has also started to hit and hit with power under the tutelage of assistant coach Ryan Aguayo.
Hallmark also likes Garrett Poston’s bat. Poston is expected to hit in the leadoff spot Friday night.