UTSA extends Hallmark’s contract for four seasons

Coach Pat Hallmark, who led the UTSA baseball team to 38 victories and the Conference USA tournament title game last season, has been rewarded with a four-year extension on his contract.

UTSA on Monday announced a four-year contract extension for baseball coach Pat Hallmark. — File photo by Joe Alexander

The new deal is scheduled to keep the coach in San Antonio through 2026, according to a UTSA news release.

In his third year at the helm of the Roadrunners’ program, Hallmark pushed his team to a 38-20 record overall and to 19-11 in the C-USA. UTSA finished 11-4 against ranked opponents and 9-3 against top 25 teams.

After opening the C-USA tournament with three straight victories, including two over No. 1 seed and tournament host Southern Miss, the Roadrunners lost 9-8 to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the title game.

UTSA, denied the C-USA’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with the loss, nevertheless returned home to San Antonio optimistic.

The Roadrunners felt they had done enough to warrant an at-large bid into the 64-team field. They even invited the media to the NCAA selection show. But in a crushing blow, they didn’t make it.

“Coach Hallmark has our baseball program moving in the right direction,” said Lisa Campos, UTSA Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics. “His leadership and ability to recruit academically and athletically talented students resulted in one of the best seasons in program history this past spring.

“We’re thrilled to be able to secure him for four more years and very excited about what’s in store for the future of UTSA baseball.”

Pat Hallmark’s UTSA record

x-2020 — 10-7
2021 — 22-26, 14-17
2022 — 38-20, 19-11

x-The 2020 season was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Roadrunners’ NCAA dreams are alive leading into Hattiesburg

Ian Bailey's second-inning home run. UTSA beat UAB 12-2 on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Roadrunner Field in the final game of the Conference USA baseball regular season. - photo by Joe Alexander

Ian Bailey crushes the first of his two home runs Saturday in UTSA’s regular-season ending victory over the UAB Blazers. UTSA (35-19 overall, 19-11 in Conference USA) will move into postseason play next week in Mississippi. The fifth-seeded Roadrunners are scheduled to open the C-USA tournament Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against the No. 4-seed FAU Owls. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners completed the regular season in style on Saturday, by pitching well and by hitting four homers in a 12-2 victory over the UAB Blazers.

After polishing off the Blazers in a game called after seven innings on the run rule, UTSA players mingled with fans and friends, taking pictures and soaking up the moment.

Ulises Quiroga. UTSA beat UAB 12-2 on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Roadrunner Field in the final game of the Conference USA baseball regular season. - photo by Joe Alexander

Ulises Quiroga rocks and fires against the UAB Blazers. Quiroga pitched four innings, allowing only one run on two hits, to earn the victory. – Photo by Joe Alexander

It seemed like a perfect time to rattle off the essential numbers for the Roadrunners — a 35-19 record overall and, more importantly, a 19-11 finish in Conference USA.

“Sounds good to me,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “Sounds good.”

Beaten soundly on Thursday night by the Blazers, the Roadrunners rebounded to win Friday night and again Saturday to take two of three in the final series of the season and to establish themselves as one of the conference’s upper-echelon teams.

They’ll start play in Hattiesburg next Wednesday, competing in an eight-team, double-elimination event for the C-USA postseason crown. The Roadrunners are seeded fifth and will take on the four seed Florida Atlantic Owls in their opener.

The game is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pete Taylor Park.

The C-USA winner next week claims the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But because of the Roadrunners’ strong play throughout the season — they were 48th in the national ratings percentage index on Sunday morning — they might not necessarily have to win the whole thing in Hattiesburg to make the 64-team national field.

It may only take two or three victories.

Kody Darcy. UTSA beat UAB 12-2 on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Roadrunner Field in the final game of the Conference USA baseball regular season. - photo by Joe Alexander

Kody Darcy started at shortstop against UAB in the last game of the season at Roadrunner Field. At the plate, he contributed a sacrifice bunt that moved runners up in a two-run sixth and a two-run triple in the six-run seventh. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We got a little more work to do,” Hallmark said. “We’ve got some games ahead of us at the (C-USA) tournament. (We want to) get over there and win some and try to make an at-large (NCAA bid.) If nothing else, win four over there (for the title) and lock it up.”

UTSA’s dreams of becoming the school’s first NCAA tournament entry in baseball since 2013 were dimmed on Thursday night when UAB erupted for an 18-7 victory. In the loss, the Roadrunners looked sluggish. They gave up a couple of long home runs and made a season-high five errors.

But, as it turned out, they weren’t down for long. By Friday night, they re-discovered their home-field magic, hitting five home runs en route to a 7-2 victory to even the series. UTSA pounded three of the homers in a five-run eighth inning.

On Saturday, not only did they shut down the Blazers for the second game in a row, limiting the visitors to four hits, but they also kept bashing balls out of the park. The Roadrunners hit four more homers, including two of them by senior Ian Bailey.

Leyton Barry. UTSA beat UAB 12-2 on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Roadrunner Field in the final game of the Conference USA baseball regular season. - photo by Joe Alexander

Leyton Barry went four for four at the plate and stole two bases. Here, he’s safe after doubling and stealing third in the bottom of the second inning. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Hallmark was at a loss to explain the turn-around from a less-than-memorable Game One against the Blazers.

“That’s baseball,” the coach said. “You know, you don’t always play good. It’s a difficult game. And we’ve played mostly good. You’ve seen us enough to know we don’t always play good, but we play good more than we don’t.

“This weekend, you win two out of three against a tough team, a 30-win team, you got to feel pretty good about yourself.”

Records

UAB 31-23, 13-17
UTSA 35-19, 19-11

C-USA leaders

Southern Miss 23-7
Louisiana Tech 20-10
Old Dominion 19-11
Florida Atlantic 19-11
UTSA 19-11
Middle Tennessee 17-13
Charlotte 17-13
UAB 13-17

Coming up

UTSA will play next week in the Conference USA tournament. The site is Hattiesburg, Miss. First games are Wednesday.

Fifth-seeded UTSA plays four seed Florida Atlantic on Wednesday night. If it wins, it would advance to meet the winner between one-seed and regular-season champion Southern Miss and eight seed UAB. That winner’s bracket game would be Thursday night.

The double-elimination event will run for five days through next Sunday. The NCAA tournament field will be unveiled the following Monday, on May 30, with the first games in the regionals set for June 3.

Notable

UTSA has some concerns going into Hattiesburg, with ace reliever Simon Miller nursing a sore back that has kept him out of the lineup for the last five games. Also, a few other pitchers in the bullpen haven’t been available lately because of injuries and aren’t expected to be back. Thus, it may fall on the offense to carry the team.

One of the positive signs is the resurgence of Ian Bailey. Bailey, a graduate student from Stevens High School, went two for two on Saturday with two solo home runs to give him three homers in his last two games and a team-high 15 for the season. In three games against the Blazers, Bailey was locked in. In 10 at bats, he had six hits and four RBIs.

Other notable developments included solid pitching performances from Jacob Jimenez, Braylon Owens and Luke Malone on Friday and from Ryan Ward, Ulises Quiroga and Fischer Kingsbery on Saturday. Quiroga was particularly good, working four innnings, giving up only one run on two hits and striking out six in the series finale.

Quotable

Bailey, who started his collegiate career at Grambling University in Louisiana, was humbled after the home finale by the greetings he received from family and friends in the wake of his last game at Roadrunner Field.

“Honestly, I’m just very thankful for all the support, not just for myself, but for the team in general,” he said. “Without these people, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m just super thankful that they came out to support the team.”

And how did he feel about the way the team played this weekend? “We came out slow (on Thursday). But over the course of the weekend … we just turned (on) another gear, especially last night. We just found another gear and hit our stride.”

What happened between Thursday night’s loss and Game Two on Friday night?

“I just think we all knew we weren’t playing to the best of our abilities,” Bailey said. “I just think we collectively wanted to do better. (On Friday) we came out with a lot more energy and a lot more pride, with a lot more confidence, and we got the job done.”

And what of his own performance, finding his power stroke after not hitting a home run in six straight games?

“This past week, I had been in a little rut. With Coach Hallmark and the coaches, we went to the cage and just ironed it out. I came out with a lot more confidence. I was just really trusting in my approach. Good things happened.”

Visuals

Here are a few highlights from UTSA’s 12-2 victory Saturday over the UAB Blazers:

The few, the proud, the totally exhausted — UTSA’s baseball team went 19-6 in 41 days

Pat Hallmark. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Pat Hallmark and his UTSA Roadrunners play on the road tonight against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. It’s the opener of a three-game series with Conference USA title implications. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Last weekend, a baseball team challenging for a conference championship and NCAA tournament consideration seemed a bit sluggish.

The UTSA Roadrunners played three hours last Saturday afternoon in near 100-degree heat. After going home to hydrate and rest, they showed up on Sunday morning confronted with the prospect of competing again in an atmosphere that felt sort of like what you’d expect from a Central American rain forest.

By the time the game at Roadrunner Field started at 11:30 a.m., most of the few fans that turned out for the series finale against Marshall huddled under umbrellas to ward off the sun. Some of the people working the game hid out in areas shaded by the grandstands, hoping for a breeze that never really materialized.

Some of the Roadrunners, who were on their 25th game in 41 days, were not mentally into it in the early innings. UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said a couple of players who hit balls that were barely foul, who should have been running on contact, instead lingered in the batters’ box. The coach barked at them to, in not so many words, wake up and play.

After eight innings, the Roadrunners still seemed to be in a bit of a fog, trailing 4-3 against the ninth-place team in Conference USA. But just about that time, something clicked. Sensing that they were letting a prime opportunity slip away, they rallied, pushing across two runs to win, 5-4.

After the players had celebrated another comeback victory, Hallmark was asked how much he has enjoyed working with this group of players. He paused. His voice cracked just a bit. He related the story about how he had to get on them. And then he admitted something that he has felt all along, but hasn’t articulated to this point.

“It’s fun to be a part of,” the coach said. “I’m proud of ’em.”

Today, the Roadrunners will take a 19-6 record in their last 25 games on the road for a showdown against the 11th-ranked Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The two teams will play the opener of a three-game series tonight at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss is in first place in Conference USA. UTSA is in second, two games back.

Oddly, neither team battling for the C-USA regular season title is at the top of its game right now. Southern Miss has lost five of its last eight. UTSA has dropped three of its last five.

In the Roadrunners’ case, I’m guessing that part of their malaise has had something to do with fatigue. The grind of playing so many games. Twenty five games in 41 days? In nine different ball parks? Is it any wonder, considering the occasional contest played in sauna-like conditions, that the team is hitting .206 during the slide?

“We’ll keep working at it,” Hallmark promised. “The guys have hit well all year. It’s not uncommon to go through slumps. So, we’re going to keep working at it.”

After Shane Sirdashney’s game-winning hit lifted the Roadrunners last Sunday, the team took Monday and Tuesday off. They went through a workout at home on Wednesday and traveled on Thursday. Tonight, they’ll face the ultimate test.

The Golden Eagles, with championship dreams of their own, will be waiting for them.

“I hope we take this momentum (all the way),” Sirdashney said last Sunday afternoon. “I know everyone’s finishing finals this week. We’re going to be all focused on baseball after finals, and then when we go to Southern Miss, we’re going to be ready to play.”

Records

UTSA 32-16, 16-8
Southern Miss 36-13, 18-6

Recent struggles

UTSA has lost three of its last five games overall, and the Roadrunners are hitting only .206 in that stretch. Southern Miss has dropped five of its last eight. In its last two C-USA series, the Eagles have dropped two of three both at UAB and at home against Old Dominion.

C-USA leaders

Southern Miss 18-6
UTSA 16-8
Louisiana Tech 15-9
Florida Atlantic 15-9
Charlotte 14-10
Middle Tennessee 14-10
Old Dominion 13-11
UAB 11-13

Coming up

Friday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 2 p.m.
Sunday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 11 a.m.
May 19 — UAB at UTSA, 6 p.m.
May 20 — UAB at UTSA, 6 p.m.
May 21 — UAB at UTSA, noon

UTSA is breathing easier after Sirdashney’s walkoff winner

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Two weeks ago, a high and inside heater from a Florida International pitcher caught UTSA’s Shane Sirdashney squarely in the ribs.

It was a brutal sequence of events in the April 24 game in San Antonio, with Sirdashney coughing up blood and then going to the hospital to see if he had suffered a fracture.

Shane Sirdashney. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

Shane Sirdashney went 2 for 4, scored a run and drove in the game winner with a one-out, RBI single in the ninth inning. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Luckily for Sirdashney, the X-rays were negative.

“There were no fractures,” he said. “I was just kind of doing breathing exercises for a week, just doing nothing, just trying to get my lungs back. I felt like I was ready to go this weekend, and I played.”

Sirdashney’s comeback was well timed. It was just about as well timed as his walk-off RBI single on Sunday, which completed a two-run, ninth-inning rally and lifted the Roadrunners to a 5-4 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Asked if he thought the baseball gods owed him the good fortune given his recent misfortune, which knocked him out of the lineup for five games, Sirdashney smiled.

“I think so,” he said. “I was just glad that we got the W. We needed this win bad. Just the way it came out at the end there was awesome.”

The implications of the two games to one series victory were equally compelling for the Roadrunners, who will move into the final two weeks of the season with a chance to claim their first Conference USA regular-season title.

Leyton Barry. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

Leyton Barry takes a tumble after he scores the game-tying run in the ninth inning. In a head-first slide, he collided with Marshall catcher Ryan Leitch, who was shaken up on the play. – Photo by Joe Alexander

It will be an uphill battle, for sure.

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles lead the conference, with the Roadrunners alone in second place, two games behind. Both teams have six to play, including three straight, head-to-head, at the Golden Eagles’ home park next weekend.

How do they like their chances?

“I’m glad we’re in the picture,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “That’s all you want … as a coach. Obviously, in two more weeks, I want to be on top. I really don’t mind being in second place right now, because, we’re the hunter. But, we got to play good ball.

“This weekend (against Marshall), I don’t think we played bad. But we’re not hitting as sharp as we could. I think we’ve set a real high expectation, because we have hit all year. So, it seems easy … But, it ain’t that easy to hit. The pitches are not that easy. They’re not laying ’em in there.

“So, we got to stay positive with the guys. We didn’t hit as well as we could (this weekend). Clearly, I think we only had seven hits (today). But we’ll keep working at it. The guys have hit well all year. It’s not uncommon to go through slumps. So, we’re going to keep working at it.”

Zac Addkison, a Marshall sophomore from San Antonio and TMI Episcopal, struck out five in six innings Sunday. He left with a 4-3 lead, and observers said later his fastball hit 94 mph on the radar gun. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Both Marshall and UTSA had a lot of motivation to win this week. The Thundering Herd were trying to set themselves up to get into the eight-team, C-USA tournament field. The Roadrunners wanted to keep winning to put pressure on the Golden Eagles.

“It was huge,” Sirdashney said, “for them and us. This puts us in good position going into Southern Miss next week. It’s going to be a huge series. We get a series win there and it’s going to be huge for our RPI and also maybe winning the conference.”

Sirdashney said he likes the Roadrunners’ chances to overtake Golden Eagles, who have been in the top 10 nationally for the last few weeks.

“I hope we take this momentum (all the way),” he said. “I know everyone’s finishing finals this week. We’re going to be all focused on baseball after finals, and then when we go to Southern Miss, we’re going to be ready to play.”

Records

Marshall 20-26-1, 9-15
UTSA 32-16, 16-8

Pat Hallmark. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said it’s fun to participate in the C-USA title race, but in order to win it, he said the team will need to swing the bats better in the last six games of the season. UTSA will play three at Southern Miss next weekend and then three at home against UAB from May 19-21.- Photo by Joe Alexander

C-USA leaders

Southern Miss 18-6
UTSA 16-8
Louisiana Tech 15-9
Florida Atlantic 15-9
x-Six games to play in the regular season

Coming up

Friday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 2 p.m.
Sunday — UTSA at Southern Miss, 1 p.m.

Notable

Elsewhere in the conference on Sunday, Southern Miss downed the Old Dominion Monarchs 5-4 in 10 innings to avoid getting swept at home this weekend. The seventh-ranked Golden Eagles (36-12) won on a bloop single by Danny Lynch that scored Christopher Sargent. Also, the FAU Owls beat the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 5-2, to win two of three in Ruston.

Ninth-inning dramatics

Ryan Capuano opened the ninth inning on the mound for the Thundering Herd Sunday, hoping to protect a 4-3 lead. Capuano struck out Sammy Diaz looking. Next batter up, Leyton Barry, drew a walk. Austin Ochoa, a pinch hitter, followed with a single up the middle, moving Barry to second. From there, with Jonathan Tapia at the plate, Capuano threw a wild pitch. As a result, Ochoa took second and Barry scampered to third.

Austin Ochoa. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

Austin Ochoa figured prominently in the ninth-inning comeback with a one-out, pinch-hit single. He later scored the winning run on Shane Sirdashney’s RBI single. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Not wanting to deal with Tapia in that situation, Capuano intentionally walked him to load the bases. Josh Killeen stepped in. Killeen lifted a pop fly into shallow right field. Barry beat the throw to the plate with a head-first slide to tie the game, 4-4. The collision shook up Marshall catcher Ryan Leitch, but after conferring with the Marshall staff, he stayed in the game. After the delay, Sirdashney stroked an 0-1 offering into center field, bringing in Ochoa for the game winner.

Quotable

Asked how he liked the finish to the game, Hallmark said, “I liked the finish. I didn’t love the rest of it.” Then he laughed.

And, what did he see on the play when the tying run scored? “I thought the slide was awesome,” Hallmark said. “I thought he slid straight in and hard. Really, really hard. He slid so hard, head-first hard, it was a little dangerous. But he went for it. I don’t know if he knocked the ball out or not, but the ball came (out of the catcher’s glove).

“It was a great slide. You got to go in low and hard. That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s not dirty. It’s just hard. I’d actually rather him go feet first. But, he’s doing everything he can to get there.”

Saving the day

UTSA right fielder Chase Keng has been one of the team’s hottest hitters during the team’s 25-game ride of 19 victories against only six losses. During the streak, he has hit for both average and for power. On Saturday, he blasted a three-run homer to boost his team-leading RBI total to 50. On Sunday, Keng made one of the best defensive plays of the season, captured deftly by photographer Joe Alexander.

Chase Keng. UTSA beat Marshall 5-4 on Sunday, May 8, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA right fielder Chase Keng makes a sensational catch against the wall in the sixth inning. After the catch, Keng fired to second to double off Daniel Carinci to end the inning. The play likely prevented one run, and possibly two, from scoring. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA edges second-ranked Stanford, 6-5, in 10 innings

UTSA's baseball team upset No. 2-ranked Stanford 6-5 in 10-innings on Leyton Barry's walk-off hit at Roadrunner Field.

The UTSA Roadrunners mob Leyton Barry in the outfield after his game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning. — Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA baseball game at Roadrunner Field on Monday seemingly had it all. Quality weather and sunshine, with temperatures in the 60s. An elite-level opponent, with the nation’s second-ranked Stanford Cardinal in the house. Even quality trash talk in a spirited performance by fans of the home team.

UTSA's baseball team upset No. 2-ranked Stanford 6-5 in 10-innings on Leyton Barry's walk-off hit at Roadrunner Field.

How sweet it is. Leyton Barry reacts to his jubilant teammates after stroking a 3-1 pitch from Tommy O’Rourke into center field for an RBI single, lifting UTSA over a team that reached the 2021 College World Series. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Sometimes, it seemed as if the talk generated heightened performance on the field. For instance, when the Roadrunners loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth inning and Stanford reliever Max Meier threw three straight balls to UTSA’s Ian Bailey, the fans started a chant.

“One more ball,” they intoned. “One more ball.”

Meier wouldn’t have it. He reached back to find great stuff, and he struck out Bailey. The next batter, Leyton Barry, hit into a double play, ending a threat that could have expanded a two-run UTSA lead to four or five.

Instead, the Cardinal turned everything around. They tied the game with a monster two-run homer in the eighth, and their bullpen kept throwing strikes and frustrating the Roadrunners — until Barry came to bat in the bottom of the 10th inning, that is.

With runners at first and third and nobody out, Barry ripped a liner that dropped behind center fielder Brock Jones, allowing Shane Sirdashney to race home with the winning run in a 6-5 victory.

Just like that, the Roadrunners, who had let so many one-run games get away from them last year, beat a team that played in the 2021 College World Series. And they beat them by one run, with a key hit to back their own quality relief pitching.

“Good ball game,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “I thought they played a great game. They did a good job. All their pitchers they brought in threw strikes and kept us off balance. That’s a good club. It looks like (an NCAA) regional team to me.”

How it happened

Sirdashney led an 11-hit attack with three hits and two RBI. UTSA (7-1) also got two-hit performances by Jonathan Tapia and Garrett Poston and a 2-RBI double from Chase Keng to down Stanford (6-2) and end the Cardinals’ five-game winning streak.

In the process, they extended their own streak to five.

As for the defense, well, the Roadrunners didn’t make an error, and their seven pitchers held an explosive Pac-12 team to six hits, the biggest blow coming in the eighth on the two-run homer by Carter Graham.

But in the end, it looked as if the Stanford bullpen, featuring lefty Ryan Bruno, who was throwing 95 mph fastballs that tailed away from right-handed hitters, might lock down the Roadrunners and allow the Cardinal to escape with the victory.

“I agree, their bullpen was fantastic,” said Barry, who was 1 for 6 with the winning hit. “But ours was, as well. That’s really the reason why we were able to win this game. Looking up at the scoreboard, Stanford only getting six hits against our pitchers, it’s what led us to the win.

“So you know, our bullpen was, frankly, better than theirs today. Which was fantastic for us.”

Last year, the Roadrunners boasted one of the most explosive offensive teams statistically in the nation and finished 22-26 because the pitching and sometimes the defense would falter. A lot of times it happened in the late innings.

On UTSA’s fifth game in four days, pitchers who carried the load included starter Ryan Beaird, plus Grant Miller, Drake Smith, Allen Smith, Daniel Shafer, Reece Easterling and John Chomko. Chomko pitched shutout ball in the ninth and tenth innings to earn the victory.

He didn’t allow a hit, walked only one and struck out four.

Touting a ‘new energy’

“We did have a lot of situations similar to this last year, that ended up going the other way,” Barry said. “We have a new team this year. But a lot of the guys are the same. For those of us who were here last year it feels fantastic to have a new energy in games like this.”

The victory was gratifying for UTSA coach Pat Hallmark. His Roadrunners won three games against top 25 teams last year. But, in beating a team ranked No. 2 in Monday morning’s Baseball America rankings, it was the best UTSA victory by opponent ranking since a 2012 game in which it defeated No. 1 Baylor at Wolff Stadium.

“It’s a good win, something to build on,” Hallmark said. “It’s a long season. But, I’m super happy for the players. More excited for them.”

Grateful for the opportunity

Hallmark said UTSA and Stanford made the deal to play at UTSA’s home field last October. Stanford, based in Palo Alto, Calif., had a three-game series scheduled for Feb. 25 through Feb. 27 in Round Rock.

“I knew one of their assistants, and he wanted to play before they flew out (to California),” Hallmark said, “and I said, ‘Heck yeah.’ We’d be more than happy to play. You tell me the time, and we’ll play.’

“So I’m grateful (to) them for wanting to play,” the coach added. “You know, this time of year, we need to play. People need to pitch, and we got about 13 hitters that I think deserve to play. It’s a challenging job, because they all deserve to play.

“Things are going great. Super happy for them.”

Records

UTSA 7-1
Stanford 6-2

Coming up

Friday — Southern at UTSA, 6 p.m.
Saturday — Southern at UTSA, 2 p.m.
Sunday — Southern at UTSA, 1 p.m.

Correction: Stanford’s double play to end the bottom of the fifth went 4-6-3 in the scorebook.

UTSA baseball to host the fourth-ranked Stanford Cardinal

Kody Darcy. The UTSA baseball team playing Seattle in Game 2 on opening day Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at Roadrunner Field. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA newcomer Kody Darcy has played in six of the team’s seven games and has produced a .400 batting average, a .480 on base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage. Darcy (shown here playing last Friday) had three hits in Sunday’s 13-0 victory over Seattle. – File photo by Joe Alexander

A big day in the history of the UTSA baseball program looms on Monday with the Roadrunners set to host the nationally-ranked Stanford Cardinal.

First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Roadrunner Field.

The fourth-ranked Cardinal will be the highest-ranked team in any sport to play on UTSA’s campus in the modern era since 2006, according to the Roadrunners’ athletic department.

Both UTSA and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford enter the game with 6-1 records. UTSA has won four in a row and Stanford five straight. Both teams have registered shutout victories in their last two outings.

Stanford won 39 games last year and advanced to the College World Series for the 17th time in program history. This season, the Brock Jones and Cody Huff-led Cardinal started the season by winning two of three at home against Cal State Fullerton.

Last week, the Pac-12 conference power played at home on Tuesday andf beat Santa Clara, winning 5-0. Traveling to Texas to play in the Karbach Round Rock Classic, the Cardinal defeated the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns 5-1 on Friday.

On Sunday, Stanford completed its stay in Central Texas by winning twice at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond, beating Indiana 13-0 and then downing second-ranked Arkansas 5-0.

During the Cardinal’s five-game winning streak, coach David Esquer’s pitching staff has yielded only two runs.

The Roadrunners, meanwhile, have also started fast under third-year coach Pat Hallmark.

They won two of three to open the season at Tarleton State and then swept four games in the last three days at home against the Seattle Redhawks.

After winning 7-3 and 3-2 on Friday, the Roadrunners rolled to an 11-0 victory on Saturday and then a 13-0 decision on Sunday.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Roadrunners’ pitching staff limited the Redhawks to a combined six hits.

Meanwhile, the offense feasted on Redhawks pitching Sunday for 20 hits, including three hits by Jonathan Tapia, Sammy Diaz, Leyton Barry and Kody Darcy.

Included in the outburst was a three-run home run by Tapia, a senior from O’Connor, his first of the season.

Records

Stanford 6-1
UTSA 6-1

Coming up

Monday — Stanford at UTSA, 1 p.m.
Friday — Southern at UTSA, 6 p.m.
Saturday — Southern at UTSA, 2 p.m.
Sunday (March 6) — Southern at UTSA, 1 p.m.

Cold weather for baseball? Just how the Roadrunners like it

Leyton Barry and the UTSA Roadrunners open their season Friday night in Stephenville against the Tarleton State Texans. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Two weeks ago, Pat Hallmark emerged from the clubhouse and walked out to the field, bundled up in a coat to ward off the cold from a low 40s-type day in South Texas. Some of his players sensed an opening to have some fun. A few of them remarked, “Hey coach, it’s just how we like it.”

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark says he feels good about the improvement of his pitching. — File photo by Joe Alexander

It’s a refrain heard often around Roadrunner Field this time of year. It’s a mindset that Hallmark, UTSA’s third-year coach, always tries to instill in his players when they’re pushing through practices in late January and early February in preparation for the start of the college baseball season.

Some days, though, the cold just doesn’t allow for any type of workout. Such was the case a few weeks ago.

“That weekend, we didn’t (practice at all on Thursday) and we didn’t play intrasquad on Friday,” the coach said. “We basically got all the pitching in on Saturday and Sunday. We really didn’t miss anything. Just got pushed back a day.

“Last weekend, it sorted itself back out. (We played regularly-scheduled intrasquad games) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So we didn’t miss anything. It was just a little colder.”

The Roadrunners may need to break out the long sleeves again this weekend in Stephenville when they open their season with a three-game series against the Tarleton State Texans. Start times Friday and Saturday are at 6 p.m., with the finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.

On Friday and Saturday night, temperatures at the Tarleton State Baseball Complex could dip into the 40s, according to the forecast online at weather.com. “Again, we’re prepared,” Hallmark said. “The guys are 100 percent ready.”

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Hallmark expressed optimism about his team’s prospects leading into the road trip to Tarleton, another game at TCU next Wednesday night and then the home-opening series starting Feb. 25. UTSA will host Seattle for four games from Feb. 25-27, followed by a matchup against Stanford on Feb. 28.

“You’re always hopeful and encouraged,” he said. “I think we’ll win some games here early. I think we’ll win some games throughout the year. But we’ve got to go do it, right. I would hope I would think that, (but) the pitching looks good.”

Last season, pitching problems haunted the Roadrunners as they finished 22-26 and got bounced out of the Conference USA tournament in two straight. Despite an offense that ranked as one of the best statistically in the nation, the pitching was among the least effective, with an earned run average of 5.92 and a WHIP of 1.62.

Sensing that the pitching would need an overhaul even before last season, Hallmark and his staff have added some talented young arms to mesh with some veterans who are throwing the ball better. “More days than not, the pitching seems to be winning,” Hallmark said. “It’s a good sign.”

On the first weekend, UTSA is expected to start senior righthander Jacob Jimenez on Friday, followed by lefty grad student Grant Miller on Saturday and freshman righty Braylon Owens on Sunday. The staff, as a whole, just seems to please the head coach.

“We’ve got a lot of new players on the mound,” Hallmark said. “And then, some of the returning players have improved. They just throw more quality pitches.”

Hallmark mentioned Owens, Ryan Beaird and Braden Davis as freshmen who have worked their way into the mix to pitch in games early this season for the Roadrunners. Also, junior college transfers Ulises Quiroga and Allen Smith have shown promise.

“At the end of the day, you just got to throw strikes and you got to create some hitting problems (for the opponent),” Hallmark said. “So we’ll be better able to do that this year, and some of it will be … you’ll see some plain ol’ new people out there.”

Hallmark, who started at UTSA in the 2020 season cut short by the Covid-19 crisis, is hopeful that his staff’s recruiting efforts will yield improved play on defense, as well.

“We’ve just tried to constantly improve the quality of the athlete on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “It’s not always that easy. Because they got to hit. You might be able to find seven or eight fast athletic kids. But if they can’t hit, you know, you got to be able to score, too. So that’s always a challenge.”

Opening-day starters Friday night are expected to be:

Pitcher — Jacob Jimenez
Catcher — Josh Killeen
First base — Ryan Flores
Second base — Leyton Barry
Shortstop — Kody Darcy
Third base — Austin Ochoa
Right field — Chase Keng
Center field — Jonathan Tapia
Left field — Ian Bailey
Designated hitter — Garrett Poston

As for the hitting? Batting stars Nick Thornquist, Griffin Paxton and Dylan Rock have all played out their eligibility. But it’s expected that the Roadrunners will score some runs, because Hallmark’s teams usually do.

Last year, Barry and Keng both hit better than .300 and slugged at nearly .600 for the Roadrunners. Darcy, a transfer from Xavier in Cincinnati, came in with the reputation as a defensive player but has also started to hit and hit with power under the tutelage of assistant coach Ryan Aguayo.

Hallmark also likes Garrett Poston’s bat. Poston is expected to hit in the leadoff spot Friday night.

Guajardo feeling good again about his baseball future

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo, from Laredo United High School and UTSA, has rebounded from Tommy John surgery to become one of the best relievers in the Texas Collegiate League. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When pitcher Arturo Guajardo wakes up in the morning these days, he feels hope. He’s happy. The strikeouts leader for the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio feels optimistic about his baseball career for the first time in years.

It’s been a welcome change in mood for Guajardo, who has lived with equal parts pain and frustration over the past few years. He doesn’t feel like he has the game completely figured out. Not by a long shot.

He just feels like, after Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in 2018, he’s finally gaining traction again after two lost seasons.

“I think I’m throwing the ball pretty good,” said Guajardo, a 23-year-old from Laredo who attends UTSA. “I feel like I could definitely have better days. But at the end of the day, it’s baseball. You just have to find ways to compete and keep yourself in there.”

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Pitching out of the bullpen, Arturo Guajardo has struck out 22 batters to lead the Flying Chanclas. His earned run average is a sparkling 0.69. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Heading into tonight’s home game against the Brazos Valley Bombers, Guajardo at least has established himself as a favorite of manager John McLaren, who calls his name out of the bullpen every other game or so.

“I tell you what, he loves getting the ball,” McLaren said. “The bigger the situation, he’s ready to go. He’s been very impressive. He’s the first one in the clubhouse every day. I get to the ball park (early), just a habit I’ve had during my whole career. He’s in there shortly thereafter.

“He dresses out, and then he goes and works in the weight room. He’s the first one in the clubhouse every day.”

Guajardo’s due diligence has paid off. In six appearances, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has employed a low- to mid-90s fastball to produce a sparkling earned-run-average of 0.69. In 13 innings, he has notched 22 strikeouts with only six walks.

Fans at Wolff Stadium have started to notice how he likes to challenge hitters with hard stuff high in the strike zone.

“Oh, yeah,” Guajardo said. “That’s my go-to (pitch). It looks fat to the hitters. The ball looks real nice and juicy to them. They can’t lay off of it. When they lay off it, I know those hitters are good. I say, all right. If they lay off of No. 1, I’m going to have to start trying some other stuff.”

When Guajardo’s story with the Chanclas is told, it will have a poignant ring for fans who have followed the fortunes of baseball in the Alamo City over the years. Not only is it the story of a young man who has overcome the hardship of a serious injury, but it’s also one that is wrapped around the legend of the late Will Brunson.

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Arturo Guajardo is pitching this summer for the first time in two years. He had elbow surgery in October of 2018 during his first semester at UTSA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Brunson, coming up through the minor leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, helped the Missions win a Texas League championship in 1997.

A few years ago, as a scout working in Texas for the Philadelphia Phillies, Brunson tipped off local college coaches to Guajardo. Tragically, Brunson died last November of a heart attack while hiking at Big Bend National Park.

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark, formerly of the University of the Incarnate Word, offered up the anecdote in a telephone interview with The JB Replay on Monday.

“We knew a little bit about (Arturo),” Hallmark said. “We recruited him (to UIW) when he was down at Laredo Junior College. So did coach (Jason) Marshall and the guys over at UTSA … (Arturo) was a shortstop. He was playing shortstop mostly at junior college, but he had a good arm. One of the local scouts told us about him. He said he’s an OK shortstop and that he liked him.”

The scout was Brunson.

“Will really liked him as a pitcher,” Hallmark said. “Will kind of saw the whole thing before anybody else did. Will liked him as a pitcher, and he told us that. So, we got on him. Coach Marshall (then the coach at UTSA) got on him. I don’t know (how) they were going to use him. But he ended up at UTSA. And (now) he’s throwing harder than he ever has, for sure.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, minor league professional baseball in America took a major hit this year. Camps were closed in March. The seasons were suspended, then canceled. With the Missions taking a major hit financially, they opted to field a team in the TCL to play some games and generate some revenue at Wolff.

In constructing a roster, they looked primarily at local college players.

One of those players just so happened to be Guajardo, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to dominate the TCL as a reliever – on the same field that Brunson played on more than 20 years ago.

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Former Missions standout Will Brunson, working as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, alerted local college coaches about Guajardo’s development at Laredo Junior College.
— Photo by Joe Alexander

In light of the circumstances, Missions general manager Burl Yarbrough was asked in a text if he had a baseball angel working on his behalf this summer. “Great story!” Yarbrough replied. “Will was a good one!!!”

A few years ago, Guajardo was an unlikely candidate to play in any high-level collegiate summer league. In the spring of 2018, he was already starting to feel pain in his elbow at Laredo JC. Later that fall, in his first semester at UTSA, he ripped an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow while throwing in a bullpen session.

“It was really tough,” he said. “I mean, I probably had a breakdown about every week, just not knowing what the future had (in store), or anything. I thought I was going to be cut. All this stuff. You’re thinking about all the negativity when you can’t do anything.

“The way I kept myself normal, I guess you would say, without going crazy, was just having faith and … honestly, just trusting the process because if you start putting your thoughts somewhere else, you’re done.

“That really tests your mental toughness. Because you’re out for a year, you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know whether you’re going to come back the same. You don’t know if you’re still going to be hurt. Or if the surgery is going to be a success. It’s just like, I’m really glad I was able to get out of it.”

Guajardo sat out all of 2019 during rehabilitation. He started throwing off a mound in August of that year and then started throwing against hitters in October. But at the start of the 2020 college season in February, he still wasn’t quite ready.

So, he waited patiently for Hallmark to call his name. Finally, in March, he was told to get ready to pitch at home in a Conference USA-opening weekend series against Charlotte. Unfortunately for Guajardo, players were told later that day that the weekend series was called off because of the threat of the virus.

Pretty soon, the season was canceled, leaving Guajardo wondering what to do. He started planning, trying to figure out a way to extend his career. Luckily, the NCAA ruled that seniors in spring sports would get an extra year of eligibility. Meaning that, Guajardo could play for UTSA in 2021.

“It was a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean, there is still weight on my shoulders. But not like that. With the injury, and with the Covid, I thought I was done. I thought my career was done.”

With the extra season, Guajardo was suddenly eligible to play in collegiate summer leagues. Gradually, he has built a reputation as one of the TCL’s best arms out of the bullpen. Hallmark said he has been told that Guajardo has thrown as hard as 97 mph.

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren discusses a call with the home play umpire late in the game Sunday night at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren describes Arturo Guajardo as one of his “go-to” pitchers out of the bullpen. – Photo by Joe Alexander

McLaren doesn’t think he’s throwing quite that hard. But he’s throwing hard enough to suit the former manager of the Seattle Mariners.

“I think he’s been in the 90s,” McLaren said. “ I don’t think he’s been up to 97. I haven’t got the (reports on the) scouts’ guns, but I was thinking he was throwing low 90s for sure, which is good. He’s been throwing strikes. That’s the main thing. No, he’s been a great addition for us. He’s done a really nice job.”

Guajardo said players on the Chanclas aren’t paying attention to their own statistics. But they do know that they’re winning — they’ve won seven of nine entering the Brazos Valley Series — and that they’re in a fight for the TCL South Division title.

“I think we’re just having fun,” he said. “That’s what it feels like. Everyone’s just having fun.”