By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
One of the best seasons in UTSA baseball history likely is over.
With the Roadrunners’ ratings percentage index at No. 67 entering Day 2 of the Conference USA Championship, they probably needed a victory over the Charlotte 49ers and then a strong run to the C-USA postseason title to have any hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.
As it turned out, Cam Fisher and the 49ers had other ideas.
Fisher hit two home runs, and the 49ers made plenty of slick plays defensively in rolling to an 11-2 victory Thursday over the Roadrunners at Reckling Park.
With the decision, Charlotte kept its tournament hopes alive, advancing in the C-USA losers bracket to play again on Friday. The 49ers will meet either the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs or the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Meanwhile, the loss sends UTSA home from Houston with an 0-2 record.
NCAA tournament berths will be announced next week. But, UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said before the tournament that his team needed to win it to have a shot. So, it’s hard to imagine how the Roadrunners could be in the national field, considering a 10-11 record in their last 21 games.
It’s a heart-breaker for a team that had so much going for it in February, March and April.
Only a month ago, the Roadrunners were 20 games over .500, ranked in the top 25 in various media polls and cruising to what looked like the program’s first 40-win season.
At one point, the Roadrunners were 28-8. Now, they’re 38-19, and they’re boarding the bus to come home, wondering what happened.
The way the game played out against Charlotte may have underscored some of the team’s problems down the stretch. The 49ers jumped on the Roadrunners early, forging a 3-0 lead.
Fisher homered in the first inning, belting a solo homer to right.
With Roadrunners’ starter Drake Smith (1-2) struggling with his command, the 49ers loaded the bases in the second. Smith was lifted for Simon Miller, the C-USA’s Pitcher of the Year, but Charlotte’s Jake Dragum answered with a line drive and a two-run single.
Nursing a 3-0 lead, the 49ers started to feel the Roadrunners’ offense. Garrett Poston blasted a solo home run and then Antonio Valdez legged out a double. Utilizing his speed, Valdez raced home on a Taylor Smith single. The 49ers’ lead had been trimmed to 3-2.
Credit the Charlotte defense for turning the momentum. In the bottom of the fourth, with UTSA trailing by one and threatening, Dragum gloved a hard-hit ground ball up the middle, stepped on the bag at second and fired to first for the double play.
It was the first of two double plays by the 49ers’ infield.
Meanwhile, Charlotte reliever Paxton Thompson (6-2) started to get tough. He went on to complete five shutout innings, allowing only two hits.
On the other hand, the 49ers offense also had something to do with the Roadrunners’ problems, as well. They scored five runs on nine hits off Miller, who yielded two home runs and two doubles.
In all, the 49ers battered the Roadrunners for 14 hits, including three by Brandon Stahlman. Blake Jackson, Fisher and Austin Knight picked up two hits apiece.
The frustrating stat of the tournament for UTSA had to do with hitting. Their batters smashed quite a few balls directly at fielders over the past few days. That being said, the Roadrunners mustered only 13 hits combined in a 5-1 loss to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday and in an 11-2 loss to Charlotte on Thursday.
If the loss to Charlotte was indeed the end of the season for the Roadrunners, they will have finished the past two seasons with 38 victories and without a berth in the NCAA tournament.
They went 38-20 last year, with a 19-11 record in the conference’s regular season. Roadrunners are now 38-19 following a 21-8 run through the C-USA. UTSA won 39 games twice, once in 1994 and again in 2008. Next season, UTSA baseball will transition along with all its other sports into the American Athletic Conference.