Mason Lytle continues lineage of Houston-area center field talent at UTSA

Mason Lytle. UTSA beat UT-Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA centerfielder Mason Lytle has contributed with his bat, glove and speed in the first 21 games of the season. – File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

UTSA baseball fans seem to have found another favorite to cheer in center field. Mason Lytle is his name, and while he has played center for the Roadrunners only for a little more than a month, it is arguable that his skills match up with some of the best at the position in the history of the program.

In a breezy interview Thursday, he talked about a number of topics: Among them, an older brother being an inspirational figure when he was a kid learning the game. His background as a ball player from talent-rich Pearland in the Houston area. And a shoulder injury at the University of Oregon last spring that temporarily derailed his career.

Also, Lytle expressed his feelings about a historic weekend looming for the Roadrunners, who play their inaugural American Athletic Conference games at home over the next few days against the 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “it’s super exciting. We’re getting prepared. We’re working hard. Watching video to get ready. Working hard in the (batting) cages to get our swings right. New conference. New opponents, and they’re ranked pretty high. So, it should be fun. It should be exciting.”

The East Carolina-UTSA series opener is set for 6 tonight at Roadrunner Field. The matchup will continue Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by a Sunday finale starting at 1 p.m.

When Lytle first stepped on the outfield grass for the Roadrunners earlier this season, fans could see his speed and ability to chase down balls in the gap. Also they watched as he put pressure on the defense running out routine grounders and stealing an occasional base.

And, by the way, he is now 9 for 9 in that category.

What has raised eyebrows lately, though, has been his ability to make contact at the plate and then utilize his speed to create havoc for opposing defenders.

Currently, Lytle (.359 average, .576 slugging percentage) is riding a seven-game hitting streak and has recorded multiple hits in his last four games.

“Mason has stepped up,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “Plays really good defense. From a talent standpoint, I knew he belonged on the field. I didn’t expect he’d hit this (well). To hit .350 (is not easy) and he’s done it.

“He’s hitting in the clutch a little bit, too, which is nice to see, and he runs the bases well.”

With Caleb Hill on an even greater tear and making contact with the ball at a high level at the top of the batting order, Hallmark has used Lytle anywhere from second to fifth recently.

The two also complement one another in the outfield, with Hill in left and Lytle in center.

“It’s hard to find that at the mid-major level, a guy that can defend, that can hit for a little power and can steal a base,” Hallmark said. “Those two guys can do all that. We’re very excited to have ’em.”

At UTSA, fans have had the good fortune to see some talented centerfielders. Many of them, like Lytle, have come from the Houston area.

Michael Rockett, for instance, and his younger brother, Daniel Rockett. From the late-2000s to the early 2010s, one or the other routinely would run down balls hit into the gap. Most recently, Shane Sirdashney from The Woodlands.

He, too, could hit for average and power and could do just about everything.

Last weekend, at home against Northwestern, Lytle continued the show for UTSA fans. He hit eight for 11 at the plate and rang up 17 total bases.

Lytle also hit an inside the park home run. The ball caromed off the batter’s eye in center field, and by the time it was retrieved, he had a full head of steam that allowed him to score.

Last time he hit an inside-the-park four-bagger?

“I actually had two at San Jac, in the same weekend,” he said, smiling, referring to his three-year run at San Jacinto College through 2022.

Lytle said he’s been working with coaches on getting back to basics with his swing.

“Not thinking too much, simplifying the swing. Getting the foot down. Seeing the ball. Back to the roots,” he said. “It’s been paying off. It’s been working.”

Defensively, the UTSA outfield is in good shape at the moment, with Hill in left, Lytle in center and Tye Odom, recently returning to form after an injury, playing in right.

“It’s nice to have three centerfielders out there in the outfield playing, at all three positions,” Lytle said. “We’re all quick. We’re all fast. We can all get to any ball. It’s nice to be able to trust the left fielder and the right fielder. It works good.

“I think our pitchers are happy we’re all out there.”

If not for a shoulder injury that cut short Lytle’s one and only season at Oregon around this time last year, he might not be at UTSA.

“I got surgery, the season was ending (for me),” he said. “The team was good. It was a fun team to be around. But it just didn’t work out in my favor. Ended up here. Couldn’t be … happier.”

Lytle’s hometown of Pearland is synonymous with the game of baseball. Former major leaguers Clay Hensley, Robbie Weinhardt, Craig Smajstrla, Jeff DeWillis and Kirk Dressendorfer all played in the area just south of Hobby Airport.

“It’s where my family grew up,” Lytle said. “It’s nice to have those roots there. A lot of baseball talent coming out of there. Especially right now, they’re pretty good. One of the top (high school) teams in the nation. It was good to be surrounded by some other good ball players. Helped me grow tremendously.”

When UTSA’s current centerfielder was growing up, his older brother, Hunter Lytle, was the man.

“My older brother played sports,” he said. “He was pretty athletic. He didn’t play as far as I did. But, he definitely had the talent. He was good, and he pushed me to my limits.”

Lytle acknowledged that his brother attended Texas State University, UTSA’s I-35 rival in athletics, with a particularly heated rivalry in baseball. Texas State on Tuesday night knocked off UTSA 14-13, a game in which Mason Lytle had three hits.

Reporters at Thursday’s media day didn’t even have to ask whether the older brother supported his younger brother’s team a few nights ago, or his own alma mater.

“He he was rooting for us,” Mason Lytle said.

As for how the Roadrunners keep coming up with high-caliber center field talent out of the Houston area, Hallmark said he hadn’t thought about it in those teams.

The Rockett brothers were recruited under a previous UTSA coaching staff into an area where their uncle, former Atlanta Braves shortstop Pat Rockett, grew up and attended high school. In Sirdashney’s case, Hallmark brought him to San Antonio, first to the University of the Incarnate Word and then to UTSA.

Lytle thought about the Houston connection and his own place in the lineage and said simply, “It’s a blessing to be out here and filling those shoes.”

Coming up

East Carolina at UTSA, Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.


East Carolina 15-4
UTSA 10-11

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