Postseason honors: UTSA lands four on AAC first team

Four baseball players from the UTSA Roadrunners have been named all-conference first team in the American Athletic Conference, according to a news release.

The four included centerfielder Mason Lytle, who was also named as the AAC’s Newcomer Position Player of the Year. The others were pitcher Ulises Quiroga, shortstop Matt King and designated hitter Alexander Olivo.

Landing on the second team were a pair of UTSA players in relief pitching ace Ruger Riojas and leftfielder Caleb Hill. All-Freshman honors went to UTSA’s Robert Orloski and second baseman Diego Diaz.

The postseason honors were announced in a release on Monday afternoon. UTSA is set to play the Charlotte 49ers Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Clearwater, Fla., on opening day of the six-day American Baseball Championship, a tournament consisting of the top eight teams in the AAC.

AAC Baseball Honors

Player of the Year – Carter Cunningham, Sr., 1B, East Carolina

Pitcher of the Year – Trey Yesavage, Jr., East Carolina*

Newcomer Position Player of the Year – Mason Lytle, Jr., OF, UTSA

Newcomer Pitcher of the Year – Tommy LaPour, Fr., Wichita State

Defensive Player of the Year – Ryley Johnson, Jr., OF, East Carolina

Coach of the Year – Cliff Godwin, East Carolina

First-team all conference

P – Blayze Berry, Sr., UAB*
P – Trey Yesavage, Jr., East Carolina*
P – Ulises Quiroga, Sr., UTSA
P – Caden Favors, Sr., Wichita State
RP – Wyatt Lunsford-Shenkman, Jr., East Carolina
C – Justin Wilcoxen, Sr., East Carolina
1B – Carter Cunningham, Sr., East Carolina*
2B – Bobby Boser, Jr., South Florida
SS – Matt King, Jr., UTSA
3B – Gavin Schulz, Jr., Tulane
OF – Jacob Jenkins-Cowart, Jr., East Carolina
OF – Ryley Johnson, Jr., East Carolina
OF – Mason Lytle, Jr., UTSA
DH – Alexander Olivo, Sr., UTSA
UTL – Ben Rozenblum, R-Sr., South Florida

All-Conference Second Team

P – Colin Daniel, So., UAB
P – Danny Beal, Sr., East Carolina
P – C.J. Williams, Sr., Florida Atlantic
P – Tommy LaPour, Fr., Wichita State
RP – Ruger Riojas, So., UTSA
C – Colin Tuft, Jr., Tulane
1B – Brady Marget, Jr., Tulane
2B – Connor Rasmussen, So., Tulane
SS – Gavin Lewis Jr, Jr., UAB
3B – Camden Johnson, Fr., Wichita State
OF – Caleb Hill, Sr., UTSA
OF – Derek Williams, Jr., Wichita State
OF – Logan Braunschweig, Jr., UAB
DH – Ryan McCrystal, Jr., East Carolina
UTL – Michael Lombardi, So., Tulane

All-Freshman Team – Bristol Carter, OF, East Carolina; Ethan Norby, P, East Carolina*; Trey Beard, P, Florida Atlantic; Emilio Gonzalez, INF, Florida Atlantic; Diego Diaz, 2B, UTSA;
Robert Orloski, P, UTSA; Tyler Dobbs, P, Wichita State; Lane Haworth, OF, Wichita State; Camden Johnson, INF, Wichita State; Tommy LaPour, P, Wichita State*

* – Denotes unanimous selection

UTSA wins AAC series against South Florida, moves to within one game of first place

UTSA’s Ruger Riojas fans Rafael Betancourt for the last out Sunday as the Roadrunners beat the South Florida Bulls, 5-3. With the win, UTSA bounces back from a loss on Saturday and claims the series, two games to one. – The JB Replay

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

A game filled with miscues by players struggling physically near the end of a long season also contained its share of highlight-reel moments, most of them by the UTSA Roadrunners, in a 5-3 victory on Sunday over the South Florida Bulls.

Mason Lytle hit a go-ahead solo home run in a two-run seventh inning and reliever Ruger Riojas closed with a solid 3 and 2/3 innings of relief, allowing UTSA to take two of three for its sixth series win in the American Athletic Conference.

Entering the day two games behind front-running East Carolina and two in front of Tulane and Wichita State in the AAC race, the Roadrunners needed to find a way to win on their home field, and they did.

They also got help later in the day, with Tulane beating first-place East Carolina 10-9 in 10 innings and sweeping the series. As a result, second-place UTSA has moved to within one game of the lead.

In the moments immediately after the Roadrunners grinded out a victory on a hot and muggy Mother’s Day afternoon, they didn’t know about their impending good fortune in New Orleans. The Tulane game was still in progress.

To hear Riojas tell it at the time, players were just happy to win a series again after losing one on the road to Rice and another at home to Wichita State on consecutive weekends.

“This feels really good,” he said. “We needed this. It’s been (since April 19-21, against UAB) since we won a weekend. USF is a really, really good team. Just happy we won (so) we can start a streak.”

In the ninth inning, with South Florida at bat, UTSA coach Pat Hallmark stepped from his post at the dugout rail and into the shade to wipe a cool towel over his head.

At that moment, with a runner at first base and one out, red-hot Bobby Boser smoked a ground ball up the middle. It looked like a sure-fire single.

UTSA shortstop Matt King had other ideas. He dove, skidding on the dirt, and gloved the ball. Popping up, he flipped to second for the force.

“Great play,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “And that guy’s a really good hitter.”

Hallmark also talked about a “really good” play in the eighth inning when rightfielder James Taussig ran a ball down in the gap, robbing Rafael Betancourt of extra bases. Also, the coach applauded the pitching of Braylon Owens, Zach Longshore and Riojas, who held down an explosive Bulls offense.

On the flip side, nagging injuries are a problem for the Roadrunners right now with a Tuesday night home game against Incarnate Word looming, and after that a three-game AAC set at Florida Atlantic that will close out the regular season.

“We’re a little thin on the health side,” Hallmark said. “We just got to keep persevering and persisting, because the hitting can turn around. We haven’t hit good for a couple of weeks. People just aren’t healthy and strong right now.”

East Carolina closes its season with three games at home against the Rice Owls.

Series recap

Friday: UTSA beats South Florida, 5-2
Saturday: South Florida beats UTSA, 6-3
Sunday: UTSA beats South Florida, 5-3


South Florida 24-27, 10-14
UTSA 29-21, 15-9

AAC leaders

East Carolina 16-8, 37-13
UTSA 15-9, 29-21
Tulane 13-11, 29-23
Wichita State 13-11, 27-26

Coming up

Non conference: UIW at UTSA
Tuesday at 6 p.m.

AAC series: UTSA at Florida Atlantic
Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
Friday, 3 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m.

AAC tournament: May 21-26
At Clearwater, Fla., BayCare Ballpark

JB’s video replay

UTSA’s Matt King reaches base in the bottom of the third on a chaotic misplay in the infield by the Bulls. – The JB Replay

South Florida scores on an infield error to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth. UTSA tried to turn two, but the play went awry. – The JB Replay

Mason Lytle hits a solo homer in the seventh for a 3-2 lead that the Roadrunners would not surrender. – UTSA athletics

Later in the seventh, Riley Skeen throws a wild pitch that allows UTSA’s Zane Spinn to score from third, as the Roadrunners take a 4-2 lead. – The JB Replay

Matt King, Mason Lytle and Co. lead UTSA past Texas State, 11-9

Mason Lytle (No. 3) celebrates with teammates after his fourth-inning grand slam boosted UTSA into an 8-5 lead against Texas State. The Roadrunners went on to claim victory over their Interstate 35 rivals from San Marcos and a split of their two games this season. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Matt King ignited the offense early with a solo home run and an RBI double, and then Mason Lytle hit a go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning, helping the UTSA Roadrunners rally past the Texas State Bobcats, 11-9, in an Interstate 35 rivalry game Tuesday night at Roadrunner Field.

The win, coming on a warm and breezy evening in front of an announced 1,070 fans, was significant on a number of fronts for the Roadrunners.

It gave them renewed momentum leading into a weekend home series in the American Athletic Conference against Wichita State. It boosted UTSA coach Pat Hallmark to his 200th career victory, and it also allowed allowed the team to gain a split of two games against Texas State this season.

Braylon Owens pitched 2 2/3 innings and earned the win in relief. UTSA beat Texas State 11-9 in non-conference baseball on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Braylon Owens pitched 2 2/3 innings and earned the win in relief. – Photo by Joe Alexander


Texas State 22-24
UTSA 26-18

Coming up

AAC series: Wichita State at UTSA
Friday – 6 p.m.
Saturday — 2 p.m.
Sunday — 1 p.m.


A dime novelist probably couldn’t have scripted a more harrowing start for a Roadrunners team that came out flat, steadied itself in the middle innings and finally hung on to win behind the pitching of Braylon Owens, Ruger Riojas and Fischer Kingsbery.

In the beginning, a couple of UTSA pitchers didn’t have great control of their stuff. One walked three batters and threw three wild pitches. On top of that, the infield botched a couple of plays and contributed to the Bobcats scoring four runs in the first inning and one more in the second for a 5-0 lead.

Matt King had three hits including a home run. UTSA beat Texas State 11-9 in non-conference baseball on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Matt King had three hits including a home run as UTSA beat Texas State 11-9 in non-conference baseball on Tuesday. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Fortunately for the Roadrunners, they have a prideful roster of players who compete hard even when they’re not performing at their best, and that’s exactly what happened. Even then, the poor start to the game left Hallmark shaking his head afterward. Asked how he liked his team’s performance, the coach said, “I didn’t love it.”

“I like winning,” Hallmark said. “I mean, winning is nice. But we didn’t play a terrific game. We were fortunate to win.”

Owens came to the rescue for the Roadrunners in the second inning. The Bobcats had a couple of runners on base and were threatening to blow the game open when Aaron Lugo produced an RBI single to right field to make it 5-0.

That’s when Owens started to get tough.

With two runners aboard, he got Texas State RBI machine Daylan Pena on a ground ball to end the inning. Owens (4-1) went on to complete 2 and 2/3 innings to earn the victory. Though he yielded four hits, he steadied his team by throwing strikes and blanking the Bobcats in the third and fourth innings.

By then, the bats had come alive. King highlighted a three-run second inning with a leadoff homer. In the third, he drove in another run with a double into the gap in left field. By the fourth, the Bobcats were reeling. A couple of batters hit by pitch loaded the bases for Lytle, who hit a ball over the left field wall for a grand slam and an 8-5 lead.

A few innings later, Isaiah Walker stoked the excitement in the home crowd when he laced a drive down the right field line that went for a three-run double. UTSA, at that point, was rolling. The Roadrunners were up 11-6.

Isaiah Walker hit a three-run double in the sixth inning. UTSA beat Texas State 11-9 in non-conference baseball on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Isaiah Walker connects on a three-run double in the sixth inning. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Bobcats made it interesting late when Chase Mora drove in a run in the seventh, and then August Ramirez sparkled in the eighth with a a 2-run homer to center field. Ramirez, a fifth-year senior from nearby O’Connor High School, made it 11-9 with his eye-opening, line-drive over the batters’ eye.

But just as things started to get a little hairy for the Roadrunners, Kingsbery entered the game and retired the one batter he faced in the eighth and all three in the ninth for the save. Kingsbery showed raw emotion after getting Ramirez on a swinging third strike, tossing his glove to the ground and screaming with delight.

“Battle of I-35,” Owens said, when asked about the fire among UTSA players immediately after the game. “I mean, they were chirping us. Like, their fans, they chirped us pretty good when we played at their place. We were just excited to beat ’em here.”

For UTSA, the victory was cleansing, in a way. It rinsed off some of the disappointment from losing two of three last weekend in an AAC road series at Rice. Entering the series, UTSA was tied for the lead in the conference and Rice was tied for eighth place. Owens suggested that maybe the Roadrunners took them too lightly.

Pat Hallmark. UTSA beat Texas State 11-9 in non-conference baseball on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark reached a career milestone with his 200th victory. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We just came out dead,” Owens said. “I think we thought we already had it in the bag before we even started playing. Didn’t keep the chip on our shoulder.”

If anything positive came from the trip to Houston, Owens said it may have been a learning experience, in that it just goes to show that “no team is an easy win.” Trailing East Carolina by two games in the AAC race with three weekends remaining, UTSA will play conference series against Wichita State and South Florida at home and then against Florida Atlantic on the road. The AAC tournament is scheduled for May 21-26 at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla.

“We know we we’ve got to fight against every team,” Owens said.

JB’s Video Replay

Matt King, a UTSA junior from Kingwood Park High School, barrels a ball over the wall in left field to ignite a three-run second inning for the Roadrunners.

UTSA freshman Whitt Joyce, who played at Medina Valley High School, rips a double to left in the second inning.

UTSA’s Mason Lytle, an Oregon transfer from Pearland High, belts a grand slam in the fourth inning for the Roadrunners. He has hit 10 homers this season.

Isaiah Walker, a junior from Manvel High School, laces a double down the right field line to score three runs for UTSA in the sixth.

Texas State graduate senior August Ramirez from O’Connor High School slammed a two-run blast over the center field wall in the seventh. – Video courtesy of Texas State athletics

UTSA righthander Fischer Kingsbery strikes out August Ramirez to end the game and then flings his glove to the ground as an exclamation mark an 11-9 victory over Texas State.

Roadrunners beat the Memphis Tigers to win another road series

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Mason Lytle homered twice for the first time this season and tied a season-high with four RBIs on Sunday as the UTSA Roadrunners moved into first in the American Athletic Conference by beating the Memphis Tigers, 7-5.

The Roadrunners won the finale of a three-game series in Memphis on the strength of hitting by Lytle and James Taussig and the pitching of Fischer Kingsbery, who worked four scoreless innings to close the game.

Lytle went two for four on the day. He homered to lead off the game in the top of the first and added a go-ahead two-run blast in the sixth. Taussig highlighted a three-hit day with a two-run double in the first inning and a solo home run in the seventh.

Kingsbery blanked the Tigers in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Allowing no runs on only two hits, he lowered his earned run average to 1.90. Kingsbery struck out five and walked two.

UTSA won two of three over Memphis for its fourth straight series victory in AAC play. Also, the victory pushed the Roadrunners (9-3) into sole possession of first place over the East Carolina Pirates (8-4) in the AAC standings. The Pirates lost 8-7 at home to the Charlotte 49ers.

For Memphis, Will Marcy went four for four, scored a run and produced an RBI. Duane Stuart hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to lift the Tigers into a 5-4 lead. Lytle answered in the top of the sixth with a two-run shot of his own, pushing the Roadrunners ahead 6-5.

Third baseman Ty Tilson made one of the better defensive plays of the day for UTSA in the bottom of the eighth when he took away a hit with a diving grab of a hard-hit ground ball. Tilson came up throwing to get the force at second base. Kingsbery finished the inning by fanning Shane Cox looking.

Series recap

Friday: UTSA wins, 9-6
Saturday: Memphis wins, 12-5
Sunday: UTSA wins, 7-5
UTSA wins series, two games to one


UTSA 21-15, 9-3
Memphis 18-19, 6-6

Coming up

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at UTSA, 6 p.m.


The Roadrunners improved to 11-4 in their last 15 games. They also remained undefeated at 4-0 on Sundays in AAC play. In UTSA’s inaugural season of play in the conference, it owns series victories over East Carolina (2-1), Tulane (3-0), Charlotte (2-1) and Memphis (2-1).

UTSA won the Tulane and Memphis series on the road …

Ulises Quiroga (4-0) pitched the first five innings to earn the victory. He gave up five runs, all earned, on six hits. Quiroga walked three and struck out four. He yielded home runs to Pierre Seals in the second inning and to Stuart in the fifth. Kingsbery earned his second save of the season. For Memphis, reliever Logan Rushing (0-2) was tagged with the loss …

Mason Lytle had a season high-tying four RBIs, matching the four he had in a series closing victory at Tulane on March 30 …


An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the Roadrunners were tied for first with the East Carolina Pirates in the AAC. Sorry about the error. Here is a look at the top of the standings:

UTSA 9-3, 21-15
East Carolina 8-4, 27-8
South Florida 7-5, 21-15
Wichita State 7-5, 21-16

UTSA wins 12-6 to sweep three games from Tulane on the road

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Red-hot Mason Lytle homered in his fourth straight three-hit performance Sunday afternoon as the UTSA Roadrunners recorded an American Athletic Conference series sweep on the road with a 12-6 victory over the Tulane Green Wave.

Playing their inaugural season as members of the American, the Roadrunners took three games in three days against the Green Wave and moved into a tie for first with the Wichita State Shockers.


UTSA 16-12, 5-1
Tulane 15-13, 2-4

Coming up

UTSA at Incarnate Word, Tuesday, 2 p.m.


For UTSA, the road sweep was the program’s first in conference play since March of 2015 at Marshall. In addition, the victory was UTSA’s fifth straight, a season high.

Lytle continued his hot hitting with a three-for-five day. The junior from Pearland High School, a transfer from Oregon, hit safely in his 14th straight game. In that span, Lytle has 32 hits in 67 at bats for a .477 average.

In a streak within a streak, he also has recorded multiple hits in 11 straight games, including four straight with three hits. For the season, Lytle’s batting average is listed at .405. He entered the day leading the American in that category.

In the series finale, Hector Rodriguez and Caleb Hill also produced big numbers at the plate. Rodriguez had three hits and three RBIs. Hill had two hits and two RBIs.

Lytle’s homer came in the fourth inning, a three-run shot that he pulled to left field. The blast lifted the Roadrunners into a 6-2 lead.

Starting pitcher Ulises Quiroga (2-0) set a career-high by working seven innings. The righthander from Baytown allowed two runs on four hits. Quiroga walked three and struck out five.

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

Feeling the opening-night blues: UTSA rally falls short, 10-9, to UT-Arlington

Caleb Hill (15) hit two home runs. UTSA lost to UT-Arlington 10-9 in the Roadrunners' baseball season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Caleb Hill (15) hit two homers to highlight a two-for-five performance with three runs scored and four RBIs against the UT Arlington Mavericks. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The second game of the the season can’t come soon enough for the UTSA Roadrunners.

Why? Because, in the opener on Friday night, the Roadrunners made a few too many mistakes early, got burned by three home runs and fell behind by nine on two different occasions.

In the end, the Roadrunners scored eight unanswered runs in a spirited rally led by Caleb Hill and Mason Lytle, only to fall in a heartbreaker, 10-9, to the UT Arlington Mavericks.

Starting pitcher Robert Orloski. UTSA lost to UT-Arlington 10-9 in the Roadrunners' baseball season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA starting pitcher Robert Orloski, a freshman, worked 3 and 2/3 innings and yielded six hits and six runs – four of them earned. He also walked only one and struck out five. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With Hill homering twice and Lytle making a grand UTSA debut by hitting a high-arc blast into the screen over the left field fence, the team nevertheless tasted defeat on what had been billed as a day of celebration, when officials welcomed fans into a remodeled Roadrunner Field.

The game just started off on a sour note all the way around for the Roadrunners, who watched as the Mavs built leads of 9-0 and 10-1.

They didn’t quit, though. A crowd announced at 785 started to generate noise when the home team erupted with three runs in the fifth, one in the sixth, three more in the seventh and one in the ninth.

Hill sparked the uprising by crushing a line drive to right center for a three-run homer in the fifth. Not to be outdone, Lytle hit a solo shot in the sixth. He nearly homered again in the seventh but it was caught at the wall for a sac fly RBI. In addition, Hill scorched a sky-scraper that landed well beyond the right field wall to lead off the ninth.

“It was good but it wasn’t enough,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “We just didn’t play very good (early). We got to play better. We looked hesitant and passive way too often, which can happen, especially in the first game of the season, with the nerves.

“I’m sure it was nerves, but you got to get over it,” the coach said. “I was disappointed in the way we played and I was disappointed in the way I coached. I need to be better, too.”

The Mavericks were just too good for the Roadrunners in the early innings. With UTSA giving the ball to highly-touted freshman pitcher Robert Orloski to start the opener, Arlington made him pay by smashing two home runs.

Orloski yielded six runs, four of them earned, in 3 and 2/3 innings to take the loss. Against Orloski, Ryan Black delivered a one-out homer in the first inning to make it 1-0. In the second inning, Parker Airhart led off by belting one out of the yard to make it 2-0.

Isaiah Walker. UTSA lost to UT-Arlington 10-9 in the Roadrunners' baseball season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Isaiah Walker batted leadoff, stroked two hits and scored twice in the season opener against UT Arlington . – Photo by Joe Alexander

In the third, Orloski was still throwing well but the game started to get away from him. Black, swinging from the left side, laced an RBI double down the left field line. A relay throw to the plate from UTSA shortstop Zane Spinn was overthrown, allowing Black to take third base on the play.

He scored a few moments later on a wild pitch for a 4-0 lead.

Fans who watched the Roadrunners win 38 games in each of the last two seasons seemed a bit stunned at the outburst, but the Mavericks weren’t finished.

Lifting Orloski with two outs and two runners on base in the fourth, the Roadrunners called on junior Ryan Beaird, and Garrison Berkley greeted him with a three-run blast to break the game open. Like Orloski, Beaird was throwing well and firing hard. But he grooved one, and Berkley smashed it over the wall for a 7-0 lead.

Later in the frame, the Mavs tacked on two more runs to take a commanding 9-0 lead.

Hallmark said he wasn’t displeased at all with the first outing for Orloski, who at this time last year was pitching in high school in Middleton, Idaho.

“He was OK,” the coach said. “The kid on their team, the (No.) 2 hole hitter, Black, is good. We knew he was good. The whole report was that this kid’s their best hitter, and he looked like it. So, I wasn’t disappointed in him getting hits off Rob.”

Not shy about throwing a high fastball, Orloski at times was impressive by inducing the Mavs into futile swings and misses. And yet other times, a couple of his mistakes proved costly. In the end, he pitched 3 and 2/3 innings and yielded six hits and six runs — four of them earned — while he walked one and struck out five

“Rob can pitch better,” Hallmark said. “I bet his strike percentage was somewhere around 58 percent, which is a little low. But he didn’t pitch poorly at all. I wasn’t disappointed at all with Rob. He was fine. He’ll be back out there.”

Hallmark tipped his cap to an old friend, Clay Van Hook, the UT Arlington coach who is in his second season with the Mavs. Years ago, both worked together as assistant coaches at Rice University under the Wayne Graham. Hallmark is also friends with Arlington assistant Mike Taylor.

“Mike and I go way back,” Hallmark said. “We played against each other. Both of them, they’re good baseball people. They bounced back last year. They won a bunch more games last year than they did the year before. He’s doing a good job. Clay knows baseball.”

Coming up

Saturday — UT Arlington at UTSA. Doubleheader. First game starts at noon.
Sunday — UT Arlington at UTSA, 1 p.m.

Mason Lytle. UTSA lost to UT-Arlington 10-9 in the Roadrunners' baseball season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Mason Lytle made his UTSA debut a memorable one by smashing a high-arc home run into the screen over the left field wall. – Photo by Joe Alexander