By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
At one point late Friday night, it appeared that the 22nd-ranked UTSA Roadrunners might rise up and steal the second game of a doubleheader from the No. 18 Dallas Baptist Patriots.
But after a dramatic eighth-inning grand slam by UTSA’s Josh Killeen tied the score, the Patriots retaliated with two runs in the ninth to close out a long day in which it secured 11-7 and 11-9 victories in front of nearly 1,000 fans at Roadrunner Field.
The third and final game of the series is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Grant Jay highlighted the decisive two-run ninth for the Patriots with a long home run into the screen above the left field wall, his second homer in the game and the sixth for hard-hitting Dallas Baptist in the two games combined.
Pitcher Kyle Amendt, who gave up the grand slam to Killeen, steadied himself to close out the victory.
After a 30-minute weather delay chased away most of the spectators, the Patriots returned to the field, and Amendt did his job. He retired the last two batters in order, giving his teammates the upper hand in the Conference USA title race.
“That,” Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner said of Amendt’s performance, “was really big.”
At the height of the drama between C-USA title contenders, a crowd announced at 935 made for a festive atmosphere on the grounds of UTSA’s humble home ball park.
Fans were seated in lawn chairs and under canopies on the right field berm. Others were camped under trees along the left field side. Fans who wanted a closer look at the action were seated in three sections of aluminum grandstands.
It was clearly a pro-UTSA crowd.
But DBU, a traditional power in NCAA baseball, held its own by bringing in a vocal red-and-white clad cheering section. Near the end of the night, after officials warned of lightning in the area, players were waved off the field and most of the fans left the premises, never to return.
Later, at the conclusion of about seven hours of C-USA baseball, Heefner talked about the charged atmosphere at the game site, and he praised his players for taking what essentially were two huge steps toward the conference’s regular-season championship.
“I thought they handled the delay outstanding, but I thought they handled the entire day (well),” Heefner said. “UTSA is an outstanding ball club. They’ve had a great season. It was a big series. (It was) really cool. This is kind of college baseball at it’s finest, to have first- and second-place teams able to play each other at the end of the year.”
Because of the weekend weather forecast, officials altered the schedule. They decided to play two games in the three-game series on Friday, so that they could be reasonably sure that they could get the third game in sometime during the rest of the weekend.
It made for an interesting situation, with so much on the line late in the conference race, two games pitting 18th-ranked Dallas Baptist against No. 22 UTSA. DBU entered the day a half game ahead of UTSA in the C-USA race. After it was over, Heefner’s team held a 2 and 1/2-game lead in the race with four to play.
“We’ve been following them the whole year,” Heefner said. “I’m sure they’ve been following us. Just like the last game ended, we had the lead (and) they hit a grand slam to tie it. You know, that’s pretty exciting stuff. And then to see how our guys responded, having the delay, thinking we were probably done for the night. And of a sudden, (the weather) clears up and we’re able to go out (to play) again.
“And then to get those last two outs, was really big.”
The Patriots held a commanding 9-5 lead entering the bottom of the eighth. In response, UTSA’s Leyton Barry drew a leadoff walk and, one out later, Antonio Valdez reached on a hit by pitch. At that point, the Patriots pulled pitcher Alec Baker in favor of Amendt, the team’s standout closer.
Entering the game with a 1.35 earned run average, Amendt promptly allowed the Roadrunners to generate an epic rally. He hit Caleb Hill with a pitch to load the bases, and then he grooved one to Killeen, who struck a ball high and far over the right field wall for a grand slam, tying the score at 9-9.
As a result, Roadrunners fans roared their approval.
UTSA’s momentum didn’t last long. With one out in the top of the ninth, Jay scorched his 18th homer of the season high into the net above the left field wall. Moving in front by one run, the Patriots added to it with a couple of hits and a sacrifice fly for the eventual two-run margin of victory.
In the bottom of the ninth, UTSA’s Sammy Diaz opened by lining out to right field for the first out. But just as Diaz was taking a seat on the bench, a UTSA facilities official walked out to notify umpires that lightning had been detected in the area, necessitating the delay.
The Roadrunners went back to their dressing room, while the Patriots filed out of the ballpark, headed for the team bus.
Unbeknownst to some fans, the visitors weren’t leaving. They were just waiting out the delay. At Roadrunner Field, there is no visitors’ dressing area, so players went to the bus to pass the time. During the break in action, Amendt did his best to stay ready.
“It was just a (matter of) keeping the body hot,” Amendt said. “Honestly, just talking to the coaches, moving a little bit and staying locked in.”
After the final out of the night, Roadrunners players were downcast and quiet. In the dugout, one sat on the bench, holding his head with both of his hands. Coach Pat Hallmark was busy making notes to prepare his team for the series finale.
“We didn’t play wonderful,” Hallmark said. “But we didn’t play terrible. Mostly (we) just tip our hat to the hitters on their team. I didn’t like our third inning (in the second game). There were three walks in the five-run third inning.22-4, 39-12 You know, the first game, they just hit us. That can happen.
Without the big fastball, we can give up some hits. Unfortunately today, they were home runs. In Game One, the home runs hurt us. I can’t fault out pitchers if we give up base hits. I was a little frustrated with the third inning of the second game. Other than that, I didn’t think we did too much wrong.”
Dallas Baptist 22-4, 39-12
UTSA 19-6, 36-14
Dallas Baptist at UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m.
UTSA at Abilene Christian, Tuesday, 4:05 p.m. (non conference)
Game One featured three home runs by the Patriots (Nathan Humphreys, Ethan Mann and George Specht) and one by the Roadrunners (Josh Killeen). In Game Two, the Patriots also hit three homers (two by Jay, a freshman, and one by Mann), while the Roadrunners (Leyton Barry and Killeen) added two.
Grand slams altered the course of each game. Specht hit his slam in the fifth inning of the first game off UTSA senior Luke Malone, allowing DBU to open an 8-3 lead. In Game Two, Killeen launched his off DBU relief ace Kyle Amendt, tying the score at 9-9.
In one day, UTSA experienced two unpleasant firsts for the season — losing consecutive games for the first time and also losing a weekend series. The Roadrunners were 11-0-1 in three- and four-game weekend series coming into the weekend. A road series at Charlotte ended in a rain-shortened 1-1 tie.
Another concern centered on the team’s top two pitchers, Simon Miller and Luke Malone.
Miller was hit on the knee by a hard-hit ground ball in the sixth inning of the second game. After attention from the trainer, he was allowed to continue, but he suffered the loss in his worst outing of the year, yielding six runs (five of them earned) in 4 and 1/3 innings. In the first game, Malone, a Friday-night starter all season, pitched in relief. He also took the loss, giving up 10 runs (all earned) in 6 and 2/3 innings.
Dallas Baptist hit two home runs off Malone in the first game, one by Ethan Mann and another, the grand slam, by George Specht. The Patriots added two off Miller in the second, one by Mann and another by Jay. Jay has 18 home runs for the season and Mann has 16.
With five games left in the regular season, UTSA needs three victories to tie and four to break the school record for wins in a season. The record is 39. Of course, UTSA will get another chance to win a few more games at the C-USA tournament, set for May 24-28 in Houston at Rice University’s Reckling Park.
It’s looking increasingly like UTSA might need to win the C-USA tourney in Houston to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning in Houston would give UTSA the conference’s automatic bid.
The only other route would be through an at-large bid, with national RPI playing a role in that calculation. With UTSA’s RPI at 54 coming into the weekend, the team clearly needs to pick up some victories down the stretch. UTSA came up short of an at-large bid last year with a season-ending RPI of 37.