Nail biter: Roadrunners win 5-4 to sweep a C-USA home series against Middle Tennessee

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders would not quit on Sunday afternoon. Despite falling behind early and trailing by five runs, they kept playing hard and applying the pressure until the final out.

The Blue Raiders scored twice in the eighth and twice more in the ninth, before relief ace Simon Miller escaped the jam, allowing the UTSA Roadrunners to win 5-4 and sweep a three-game series in Conference USA.

“I mean, sweeping any team is obviously pretty hard, and they’ve been pretty hot,” UTSA left fielder Caleb Hill said. “We knew coming into this weekend that we had to play our best and I feel like lately, we’ve been doing that. We’re trying to just control what we can control. Coach talks to us about that all the time.”

After swinging hot bats in 13-5 and 12-4 victories on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the defense sparkled at sun-splashed Roadrunner Field behind starting pitcher Ulises Quiroga, who earned his second win of the week.

On one play, right fielder Dalton Porter fired a sizzling strike into the catcher to keep one run off the board early. Later, Hill made a leaping catch of a drive at the left field fence, crashing into the wall and then falling to the ground for the last out in the fifth.

Not to be outdone, freshman center fielder Tye Odom, inserted into the game earlier in place of injured Shane Sirdashney, made a terrific running catch of a drive into the right/center gap. Quite obviously, a “Win on Sunday” mantra that the Roadrunners adopted earlier this spring, was in play once again.

“Some teams would come in here on Sunday and drop that third game. But I feel like, coming in, we knew we had to stay focused in this game. You know, one pitch at a time,” said Hill, a junior in his first year at UTSA out of Grandview High School, Nicholls State University and Temple Junior College.

Quiroga (6-1) enjoyed a solid start featuring 72 pitches, 51 of them for strikes. On Tuesday, he started and worked the first two innings in a 5-1 victory at Texas A&M.

On Sunday, he pitched six scoreless, gave up only five hits and didn’t walk anyone, while striking out four. As good as Quiroga was, however, the defense may have been better. Defenders in the field made all the routine plays — and all the others, as well.

Hill’s catch of a drive off the bat of Middle Tennessee’s Eston Snider was certainly one for the memory banks.

“When he hit it, I kind of knew it was drifting away from me,” Hill said. “It actually had a little more carry than I thought. I thought the wind was going to kill it a little bit. But it just kept going. I knew the wall was going to stop me, so I just kept going (into the fence).”

In the top of the ninth, the game nearly got away from Miller and the Roadrunners.

JT Mabry opened with an infield single and took second base on a one-out fielder’s choice. On the play, pinch-hitter Jared Vetetoe chopped a ball to the right side. Fielding it on a high hop, first baseman Garrett Poston flipped to Miller covering the bag at first for the second out of the inning.

From there, the Blue Raiders dug in and refused to fold. Luke Vinson drew a walk and then Snider followed with a double off Miller that bounced into the left field corner, scoring two runs.

Suddenly, what had been a five-run game was a one-run game. Also surprising was that Miller, one of the top pitchers in the nation, had given up two earned runs in an inning for the first time all season. In keeping with his bulldog mentality, though, he steadied himself and got the last out.

UTSA shortstop Matt King fielded Brett Coker’s ground ball cleanly and fired to first, ending the game and keeping the Roadrunners a half game ahead of the Dallas Baptist Patriots in the C-USA title race.

Asked later what he was thinking, with two out and the potential tying run at second base in the last inning, UTSA coach Pat Hallmark grimaced a bit and replied, “To be real blunt, I was mad at myself.”

Hallmark was thinking about a decision that he made early in the game.

“I made a mistake in the second inning, and right when I made it, I thought to myself, ‘That’s the kind of mistake that on a day like this can come back to hurt you,’ ” he said.

At the time, UTSA held a 4-0 lead and had runners at first and second with no outs.

On a single to right field by Antonio Valdez, the UTSA coach waved Josh Killeen around third and sent him home, where a throw from Snider, the right fielder, was on the money. Catcher Briggs Rutter secured the ball in his mitt and slapped the tag on Killeen for the out.

The next two batters were retired in order, leaving UTSA scoreless in an inning when it could have done some serious damage.


Middle Tennessee State 17-17, 8-7
UTSA 28-8, 12-2

Coming up

Texas State at UTSA, 6 p.m.


UTSA has won 14 games in a row at home. UTSA’s last home loss came on March 3, when the Utah Utes won 5-3 at Roadrunner Field.

JB’s video replay