Blazers down UTSA, 7-3, to hand Riojas his first loss

UAB's David Harris scores in the fifth inning to tie the game 3-3. UAB beat UTSA 7-3 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 19, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UAB’s David Harris slides in home, scoring from second base in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Nick Hollifield. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Logan Braunschweig and the UAB Blazers beat the hottest pitcher in the American Athletic Conference on Friday night at UTSA. Braunschweig’s two-run double highlighted a three-run ninth inning as the Blazers downed the Roadrunners, 7-3, handing UTSA star Ruger Riojas the first loss of his career.

Riojas (7-1) entered the game undefeated in a season and a half for the Roadrunners. After going 5-0 last year as a freshman, the sophomore righthander from Wimberley is now 12-1. He made his 37th appearance as a collegian in relief in the fifth inning and pitched into the ninth.

Ruger Riojas. UAB beat UTSA 7-3 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 19, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Ruger Riojas took the first loss of his UTSA career after yielding four runs on seven hits in 3 and 2/3 innings. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Blazers touched him for four runs on seven hits in 3 and 2/3 innings to win their third straight game, including wins at Rice last Sunday, at 18th-ranked Alabama on Tuesday and now against the team that had been leading the AAC standings.

“The biggest thing for us is, it’s three straight good games we’ve played,” UAB coach Casey Dunn said. “We had a good win last week on Sunday and we carried that over to a good win on Tuesday night against Alabama.

“We came out here and played … error-free baseball, with the exception of the mis-read in the outfield when they were able to score from first on the single. You take that play out of the equation and I thought we played really clean.”

UTSA appeared to have the upper hand after scoring three runs in the fourth inning for a 3-1 lead. With runners at first and third, Hector Rodriguez looped a single into center field. Freshman Diego Diaz, one of the fastest players on the Roadrunners, motored all the way from first and slid in safely.

Alex Olivo followed with an RBI single, but the Roadrunners tried to score a second run on the play but were thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

After the game, Dunn acknowledged that it was significant that they were able to beat Riojas, who entered the game with a 1.91 earned run average, good for third in the conference and 15th in the nation. His seven wins were tied for first with East Carolina star Trey Yesavage.

Robert Orloski. UAB beat UTSA 7-3 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 19, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Robert Orloski gave up three runs, two of them earned, on three hits in 4 and 2/3 innings. He struck out four. – Photo by Joe Aleander

“He’s the guy we talked about,” Dunn said. “I’ve played against (coach) Pat (Hallmark) and his guys for a few years now, and he seems to like his best guys in the bullpen and try to get to ’em in later in games. We talked a lot about it, that if we were going to win, we were going to have to beat that guy, and I thought our guys had a good approach.”

The Blazers already scored once in the fifth inning against UTSA starter Rob Orloski when Riojas entered the game. Trying to protect a 3-2 lead, Riojas threw a fast ball that Nick Hollifield whacked into right field for an RBI single. The game was tied.

In the sixth, Mayes White slapped an RBI single to put UAB on top, 4-3. Riojas settled down and blanked the Blazers in the seventh and eighth innings. But he couldn’t get through the ninth unscathed. With one out and runners at first and second, Braunschweig, a left-side hitter, laced a double down the left field line that scored two runs.

Hollifield followed with an RBI single up the middle for the last run of the game.

Records

UAB 17-19, 5-8
UTSA 22-16, 9-4

Coming up

Saturday: UAB at UTSA, 11 a.m.
Sunday: UAB at UTSA, noon

Hector Rodriguez loops a single into center field in the bottom of the fourth, driving in two runs. Freshman speedster Diego Diaz scores all the way from first base on the play. – Video by Jerry Briggs

Alex Olivo drives in a run with a single through the right side in the bottom of the fourth, but the Roadrunners try to score again on the play and get thrown out at the plate. Rightfielder Tyler Waugh made the throw to catcher Nick Hollifield, who applied the tag on a sliding Mason Lytle. – Video by Jerry Briggs

Ruger Riojas. UAB beat UTSA 7-3 in American Athletic Conference baseball on Friday, April 19, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander Ruger Riojas went undefeated in his first 36 appearances as a pitcher for the UTSA Roadrunners. After finally taking a loss against the UAB Blazers Friday night, Riojas fell to 7-1 on the season and to 12-1 in his career. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA evens series with an emphatic 14-4, run-rule victory over Charlotte

Hector Rodriguez strokes a two-out, two-run double in the third inning, lifting UTSA into a 4-4 tie with the Charlotte 49ers. Rodriguez went four-for-four on the day and produced three RBIs. – Video by Jerry Briggs

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

As Saturday morning dawned at Roadrunner Field, an air of tension filled the dressing area as UTSA players started to arrive for Game 2 of a three-game series against the Charlotte 49ers. They couldn’t shake the feeling that came with a dispiriting five-run loss on Friday night.

“We were not too happy this morning,” UTSA third baseman Hector Rodriguez said.

Motivated to make amends, the Roadrunners rolled behind Rodriguez and pitcher Ruger Riojas to a 14-4, run-rule victory. Rodriguez led the way offensively with four of UTSA’s 16 hits. Meanwhile, Riojas pitched four scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory.

“We knew that we just had to come out and play our game, and I feel like that’s what we did,” Rodriguez said.

Records

Charlotte 14-17, 4-4
UTSA 18-13, 6-2

Coming up

Charlotte at UTSA, an American Athletic Conference series finale, Sunday at 11:30 a.m.
(Game time moved up 30 minutes to accommodate Charlotte’s travel).
Series is tied at one win apiece.

Notable

UTSA’s 10-5 setback to Charlotte on Friday night was costly in more ways than one.

Not only did it sting for the Roadrunners to give up eight unanswered runs to the visitors in one stretch of the game, but they also lost standout sophomore outfielder Tye Odom with an ankle injury. It’s uncertain how much time that Odom, a .342 hitter with power, will miss.

“I don’t know yet,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said. “They’ve taken two X-rays and there’s no fracture. That’s the only thing I’ve been told in terms of time frame. I’ve been told it’s high ankle sprain. No time frame yet.”

On Friday, the 49ers pitched the Roadrunners effectively. UTSA trailed 8-2 at one point and again at 10-4. An offense that leads the American just didn’t look very potent against 49ers lefthanders Cole Reynolds and AJ Wilson.

By Saturday afternoon, the Roadrunners shook off the poor performance and hammered away, with all but one position player picking up at least one hit. From the third through the sixth innings, they scored two, three, three and three runs, respectively.

Rodriguez went four for four and produced three RBIs, none bigger than the two he plated in the third inning with a double to the wall in center.

Mason Lytle extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a three-for-three showing, which included a first-inning solo homer. Both Matt King and Caleb Hill contributed two hits apiece, and King scored three runs.

“I thought we persisted very well with the bat,” Hallmark said. “The whole game, we persisted, which means that we didn’t have many lulls. You know, baseball’s a long game. It can be boring at times, and guys can just get in lulls and give at bats away, or slip up here and there, and I just thought we kept persisting. It paid off.”

The Roadrunners were scuffling a bit in the early going, giving up solo home runs to Johnny Sutryk in the second inning and to Juan Correa in the third. Correa’s 10th homer of the season lifted the 49ers into a 4-2 lead against UTSA starter Zach Royse.

In the bottom of the third, hard-throwing 49ers reliever Ryan Degges was one out away from blanking the Roadrunners when Rodriguez blasted a ball to the wall, scoring Alex Olivo from third and Broc Parmer from second.

“Hector’s been playing good ball,” Hallmark said. “He got a big hit in the Saturday game at Tulane (last weekend). It was tight. I think we were up by two and he got a big two-out double to give us a four-run lead, and it kind of broke their spirit a little bit. So, Hector’s been playing some good ball.”

Riojas, once again, showed dominant stuff in keeping the 49ers off the scoreboard for four innings. He allowed only two hits and gave up just two walks. He struck out four, including three in one eye-opening sequence.

With the Roadrunners protecting a 7-4 lead, Riojas (6-0) worked his magic in the top of the fifth. A walk and a single put runners at first and third with nobody out. In response, the sophomore righthander from Wimberley promptly struck out Correa, Reid Haire and Carson Bayne to shut down the visitors.

“He’s good,” Hallmark said. “He’s got talent. But he’s also got that competitive mindset that we like around here. We use the phrase, Junkyard Dog … He likes competition … He likes competing against other people that are good. You know, that phrase, iron sharpens iron.

“That’s what you need. On teams, you need a lot of those people. Matt King is like that. We got several people like that.”

A burgeoning streak

UTSA newcomer Mason Lytle has hit safely in 17 straight games, including multi-hit efforts in his last 14.

UTSA’s Hector Rodriguez completes a four-hit afternoon and secures a 14-4, run-rule victory over the Charlotte 49ers on Saturday afternoon at Roadrunner Field. – Video by Jerry Briggs

Baseball: UTSA rolls past Tulane 6-3 in series opener at New Orleans

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA Roadrunners on Thursday kept playing winning baseball in the early days of the American Athletic Conference race, cruising to a 6-3 road victory over the Tulane Green Wave.

In the first game of a three-game series at New Orleans, UTSA took charge behind the pitching of Rob Orloski and Ruger Riojas and the hitting of Mason Lytle, Matt King and Tye Odom.

Orloski allowed only one run on five hits in the first 4 and 1/3 innings, followed by the final 4 and 2/3 from Riojas.

Riojas gave up two runs on three hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth by Colin Tuft, to end the game. He struck out seven and walked none and picked up the win, improving his record to 5-0.

Tulane lefthander Luc Fladda (0-1) took the loss despite pitching fairly well. He yielded only three runs on six hits. Fladda had the Roadrunners swinging and missing, striking out eight.

Lytle, UTSA’s leadoff man, extended his hitting streak to 12 games. He went three for five for his ninth straight multi-hit game.

King, batting second, had four hits in five at bats, including two doubles and an RBI. Odom delivered with a solo homer in the fourth inning.

The Roadrunners entered the series on an upswing, having won two of three at home last week against the nationally-ranked East Carolina Pirates. The Roadrunners also won a non-conference road game Tuesday night, beating the Baylor Bears, 9-7, in Waco.

Records

UTSA 14-12, 3-1
Tulane 15-11, 2-2

Coming up

UTSA at Tulane, Friday, 6:30 p.m.; UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, noon.

Baseball: UTSA wins inaugural AAC series against 10th-ranked East Carolina

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Mason Lytle ignited the offense early. Daniel Garza and Ruger Riojas pitched with a purpose at the end. As it turned out, the UTSA Roadrunners claimed a 6-5 victory Sunday over the 10th-ranked East Carolina Pirates

In their first weekend of play as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the Roadrunners won two of three off the defending champions. It is the first time in the history of the program that UTSA has won a series against a Top-10 opponent.
.
In Game 1 on Friday night, freshman Rob Orloski combined with Riojas to pitch the Roadrunners to a 4-2 victory over East Carolina and All American Trey Yesavage. On Saturday, the Pirates bounced back, winning 14-10 behind a 16-hit attack.

UTSA claimed the rubber match on a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon at Roadrunner Field despite four home runs by the hard-hitting visitors from Greenville, N.C.

East Carolina kept pounding away all day with homers by Justin Wilcoxen, Dixon Williams, Joey Berini and Ryan McCrystal.

The Roadrunners took charge early, leading 2-0 after one inning and 4-1 after two as centerfielder Mason Lytle and catcher Broc Parmer led the way.

In the top of the first, Parmer back-handed a ball on a pitch that hit the turf. He came up and threw out Clark Cunningham trying to take second base to end the inning. Later, Lytle ignited the offense with a one-out single and a stolen base.

To cap the bottom of the first, Parmer doubled to left and drove in a run to make it 2-0. Thanks to the pitching and the defense, the Roadrunners would hold on to the lead for the remainder of the afternoon.

A pitching threesome of Ulises Quiroga, Garza and Riojas got the job done. Quiroga started and worked four innings. Though he gave up three runs, he also kept the Roadrunners in the game with a sharp breaking pitch. He struck out four.

Garza entered in the fifth inning and worked into the eighth. Pounding the strike zone and walking none, he seemed to be in full control to all but two batters. Perini touched him for a two-out solo homer in the sixth. Later, McCrystal launched a solo shot of his own to lead off the eighth.

After the McCrystal blast cleared the wall in left and pulled East Carolina to within 6-5, UTSA coach Pat Hallmark called on Riojas, his ace, who threw 41 pitches in a three-inning save Friday night. Riojas promptly registered two strikeouts and induced a ground ball to end it.

In the ninth, the Pirates threatened again when Cunningham delivered a two-out double into the left-center gap. Riojas finished the game by getting Jacob Jenkins-Cowart to bounce a ball to shortstop Matt King, who fired to first for the third out.

Riojas, in all, worked two scoreless innings, allowing only a hit, while striking out two. In the process, he lowered his earned run average to 1.44.

Lytle, a transfer from the University of Oregon, continued his strong play. He finished the game two for four to extend his hitting streak to 10 games and raise his batting average to .371. He stole three bases and scored twice.

Defensively, Lytle made a diving catch in center in the second inning for his second gem of the weekend.

Parmer, one of three newcomers to play catcher for the Roadrunners this season, is making a bid for the lead role. He made multiple stops on pitches that were difficult to handle, including one when the Pirates had a runner at third base. At bat, he finished three for four with two doubles, lifting his average to .358.

Alex Olivo and Zane Spinn also had two hits in the Roadrunners’ 10-hit attack. Olivo delivered an RBI single in the first. Spinn had an RBI double in the second and later scored on a Caleb Hill sacrifice fly to make it 4-1.

Records

East Carolina 16-6, 1-2
UTSA 12-12, 2-1

Coming up

UTSA at Baylor, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
AAC – UTSA at Tulane, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Baseball: Roadrunners down the Islanders 5-4 in 12 innings

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Fischer Kingsbery recorded a game-saving strikeout with two runners on base Saturday night as the UTSA Roadrunners beat the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders 5-4 in 12 innings.

In the game played in Corpus Christi at Chapman Field, the Roadrunners scored twice in the top half of the 12th and then gave up a run in the bottom half before steadying themselves to win.

With the potential tying run at third base and the winning run at first, Kingsbery worked the count to three balls and one strike against Christian Smith-Johnson.

He responded by throwing two straight strikes past Smith-Johnson to close out the Islanders, allowing the Roadrunners to even the series at one win apiece.

Caleb Hill tied a school record with five hits, including an infield single that sparked a two-run rally in the 12th.

UTSA starting pitcher Zach Royse allowed only a run in the first 6 and 1/3 innings. When Braylon Owens found trouble in a two-run Corpus Christi eighth that tied the score 3-3, Ruger Riojas came on to squelch the rally. Riojas (4-0) pitched three and 1/3 scoreless, allowing four hits, to earn the victory.

Kingsbery closed in the 12th for his first save of the season.

For the Islanders, Sebastian Trinidad had three hits and a career-high four RBIs. His two-run single in the eighth tied the game. Trinidad’s RBI single in the 12th brought the Islanders to within one run.

Records

UTSA 8-7
Texas A&M Corpus-Christi 8-9

Coming up

UTSA at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Orloski earns opening-day start on the mound as UTSA rolls with a talented freshman

UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

The batting cage was alive with activity Tuesday as UTSA hosted media day and prepared for Friday’s opener against the UT-Arlington Mavericks. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Last year, the UTSA baseball team relied on a time-tested veteran as its starting pitcher on Friday nights. Senior Luke Malone was the man to open most three-game series. When games got dicey, the Roadrunners called on reliever Simon Miller.

Coach Pat Hallmark. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Pat Hallmark announced that freshman Robert Orloski will start the season opener Friday at home against UT-Arlington. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Bases loaded in the fifth? With the opponent’s cleanup man at the plate? UTSA trying to protect a one-run lead? Everyone at Roadrunner Field knew that Miller would get the ball in that situation.

Ultimately, UTSA rode the Malone-Miller combination to a 28-8 start that vaulted the Roadrunners into the national Top 25 for the first time in school history.

This season, they’ll open their first series of the season at home Friday afternoon with a different look altogether. Instead of veteran savvy on the mound, Coach Pat Hallmark will roll with a freshman. He announced Tuesday afternoon on media day that he’ll start highly-touted righthander Robert Orloski against UT Arlington.

As a matter of fact, the Roadrunners will stay young in the second game of the four-game series and in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, as well, going with sophomore righty Ruger Riojas. So, with Miller scheduled to pitch this season in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor-league system, who will take his place?

Who will fill that all-important bullpen role? Hallmark admittedly doesn’t have an answer just yet.

“I don’t know,” Hallmark said. “Multiple people at this point. Hopefully that evolves. From a pure talent standpoint, I don’t think we have a Simon Miller. Simon … had a major league breaking ball. He could keep his breaking ball from 87 to 90 miles per hour and keep it depthy. We just don’t have someone that’s going to do that, right?

Ruger Riojas. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Ruger Riojas is set to open the season as the Roadrunners’ No. 2 starter. Riojas, from Wimberley, was 5-0 with a 4.11 earned run average out of the bullpen last year. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We do have some guys that are pretty good. Daniel Garza’s solid. And others. But that’s an evolving role at this point.”

UTSA is banking on Orloski to have the chops to withstand all the pressure that comes with being an opening-day starter. Last spring, he was pitching in high school in Middleton, Idaho. In July, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder with the low 90s fastball and good command was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.

Ultimately, he turned down the opportunity and decided he wanted to attend college instead. “He’s talented,” Hallmark said. “He was drafted by the Red Sox out of high school in the 20th round, so you know he’s got some talent. And he’s mature. I don’t think Rob will be rattled. I could be wrong, right? But eventually Rob’s going to be a very good college pitcher, so we might as well start finding out when right now.”

Orloski already rates as one of the most-watched pitchers on the team by the veterans. Junior third baseman Matt King said he enjoys watching him work. “I have a lot of high expectations for him,” King said. “I like watching him. He pounds the zone. He throws hard. He’s one of my favorite pitchers on this team.”

Matt King. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Matt King is expected to play third base this season after starting most of the last two seasons at shortstop. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Honored as Gatorade Pitcher of the Year in Idaho in 2023, Orloski will hardly be the only newcomer on the field for UTSA on opening day. It is probably a safe bet that fans will see veterans Matt King, Isaiah Walker and Caleb Hill on the field somewhere. King, a preseason All-American Athletic Conference pick, likely will be at third base. Walker and Hill will be out there somewhere.

But after that, it’s hard to read Hallmark’s mind on who will be where. What is known, at this point, is that the newcomers will face expectations. UTSA won 38 games in each of the last two seasons. Both teams finished high in the Conference USA race. Everyone in the renovated ball park this spring will want to see all that, and more.

“It’s new, right?” Hallmark said. “There’s certainly expectations after the last two years, which is wonderful. We don’t shy away from it. That’s what we want. We talk about it. But (there) are new players. They haven’t done it before. So, we need to tee it up and see how they do.

“It won’t be perfect, right? We’re going to have bad games and some bad play. But I think we’ll figure it out. We just need to figure it out as soon as possible.”

Hallmark said a conference championship is the next step for his program.

“We finished second in the conference last year and third the year before,” he said. “I think it’s easy and appropriate to say the next step is to win a conference championship and to play in the NCAA tournament. Those are the two things that are the next step.”

Coming up
UT Arlington at UTSA

Game One – Friday, 4 p.m.
Games Two and Three — Doubleheader on Saturday, first game starting at noon
Game Four – Sunday, 1 p.m.

.

Building a foundation of success: UTSA baseball opens a new season this week

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark. UTSA baseball beat Houston 12-2 in 7 innings on a run rule on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark will lead the Roadrunners into a season-opening series at home this weekend against UT-Arlington. – File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

College baseball season has arrived, with UTSA coach Pat Hallmark and a few players expected to address the media later today to talk about their hopes and dreams.

Topics of discussion are expected to include heightened expectations in the wake of back-to-back, 38-win seasons and what’s expected in the way of a lineup for the opener Friday at home against UT-Arlington.

In addition, we will surely hear questions asked about the renovations at Roadrunner Field and the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.

The playing surface at Roadrunner Field has been fixed after it unexpectedly sustained damage during construction last month. As a precaution, the Roadrunners spent at least the first weekend of official practices in late January at off-campus locations.

“The team has been practicing and playing intrasquad games at Roadrunner Field for the past two weeks,” a school spokeswoman said in a text last Friday.

Despite the issues related to their field, the baseball program is on solid footing. A winning culture has been established. Last year’s team played much of the second half of the season ranked in the Top 25.

I had a chance to visit with Coach Hallmark a few weeks ago. In that interview we talked about the expectations this season — UTSA is picked third in the AAC — and how the personnel might be utilized.

Some of the information I have had in my notebook may be a little outdated by now in the wake of recent practices and evaluations, but I wanted to share it with you, anyway.

Given all that, here is a look at the Roadrunners, position by position:

Catcher — JUCO transfers Andrew Stucky, Broc Parmer and Lorenzo Moressi are expected to split duties through the early portion of the season, with freshman Whitt Joyce from Medina Valley waiting in the wings. The three from JUCO all enjoyed productive seasons at the plate last year. “They all look good,” Hallmark said. “They’re all fighting for the No. 1 spot.”

First base — Senior transfer Alex Olivo, a senior transfer from Texas Southern, and returning player James Taussig both hit with home run power. Also, JUCO transfer Mark Henning is in the mix. All three bat from the left side. Hallmark says first base is “fairly open” at this point. “We have multiple guys that can hit. We’re looking for that combination of hitter-best defender, and one of those guys could end up at DH,” the coach said.

Second base — Isaiah Walker, a .273 hitter a year ago who sat out down the stretch with a hamstring injury. “Isaiah,” Hallmark said, “is a guy we wish we had nine of him, because he can play anywhere on the field. Good defense everywhere.” Also, either of three newcomers, Hector Rodriguez, Zane Spinn or Diego Diaz.

Shortstop — Rodriguez and Spinn. Also, Diaz. Rodriguez played in high school at Houston Westside and at Galveston College. Spinn, from Holland, Tex., also has played at Temple JC. He was at Sam Houston State last year but did not play for the Bearkats, who won a mid-week game off UTSA at Roadrunner Field. Spinn, at 6-4 and 218 pounds, has the potential to hit home runs. Diaz is from the Rio Grande Valley, from Pharr and Sharyland High School.

Third base — Matt King is UTSA’s most accomplished returning player. Over the past two seasons, he has played in 108 games and started 99. He hit for a .318 average last year, slugged six home runs and produced 58 RBIs. “Matt had a good year last year,” the coach said. “We’re looking for him to do that again.” In case of injury, the coach said any of the players at second or third could move over.

Outfielders — Look for returning players Caleb Hill, Isaiah Walker, Tye Odom, James Taussig and Dalton Porter, plus newcomer Mason Lytle, a transfer from Oregon, to play. Hill, who hit .318 with seven homers and 41 RBIs last year, is solid in left field. “Lytle, Odom and Walker, all of ’em are terrific defenders,” Hallmark said. “Any of ’em could be in center. Any of ’em could be in right.”

Pitching — Ulises Quiroga, Ruger Riojas, Daniel Garza, Drake Smith and Ryan Beaird, in that order, logged the most innings pitched for the Roadrunners last year. Coaches are counting on those five along with Ryan Ward to step up their productivity. Also, Braylon Owens looked sharp in early workouts. Braden Smith, a standout from two years ago, is healthy again after missing all of last year.

An intriguing story is Idaho native Robert Orloski, a 6-foot-3 righthander who signed with UTSA and then was drafted in the 20th round of the major league draft by the Boston Red Sox. On Tuesday afternoon, Hallmark named Orloski as his opening-day starter, with Riojas second in the rotation.

Damaged playing surface at Roadrunner Field forces first official practices off campus

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The UTSA baseball team opened practices off campus for three days last weekend as work progressed on a project to upgrade Roadrunner Field.

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark. UTSA scored four runs in the seventh inning to rally past Rice 9-7 in Conference USA baseball on Friday, May 5, 2023, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark says his team held its first official practices last weekend off campus after Roadrunner Field was damaged in efforts to lay underground cable. – File photo by Joe Alexander

The project includes a new press box and a new grandstand behind home plate that will include chair-back seating. Dugouts also are being expanded.

Fifth-year coach Pat Hallmark said in an interview on Monday morning that recent work to lay underground cable for television went awry and left the field unplayable in different areas.

“They did something under the ground,” Hallmark said. “… and they damaged the field in multiple places. So that’s got us practicing somewhere else.”

Explaining the situation, Hallmark said “a drill powered by air and water” was in use, “and somehow it backed up, and everything came up,” leaving the field wet and mushy in parts of the infield and the outfield.

“It was like a water bed when you walked on it,” the coach said.

The portion of the infield that had been soggy is now dried and just needs “patching up,” Hallmark said, but the outfield area in shallow center remains an issue.

“It’s more of a mess,” the coach said. “I guess there’s more moisture under there. I don’t know exactly (why). But it’s not even dry yet (and) we’ve had three good days of dry (weather). Anyway, I don’t know even all the details. I just know we can’t play a game on our field.”

After off-campus workouts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, players had Monday off. Come Tuesday, the plan called for them to work at Roadrunner Field because there is no intrasquad game scheduled. “You can control practice better when there’s no intrasquad game,” the coach explained.

Hallmark acknowledged that the uncertainty with the playing surface on the team’s home field is “a little bit” of a distraction with the regular-season opener looming on Feb. 16.

“Some of these high schools and their (baseball) programs have been very gracious, to let us on their fields,” he said, noting that the team has practiced at Antonian, Central Catholic and Cornerstone.

Added Hallmark, “We’re getting our work in. Like I said, we’ve played 23 innings, which is what we had planned, whether it was here or (elsewhere). So, (we) adapt and move on.”

Hallmark is in the initial stages of preparing to build on back-to-back 38-win seasons. Last spring, the Roadrunners started out sizzling with a 28-8 record, soaring into the national top 25 for most of April and May.

After a few key players suffered injuries, their momentum was slowed significantly.

Even then, the Roadrunners still had a chance to win the Conference USA title going into their last home series.

But in the end, the Dallas Baptist Patriots swept three straight games at Roadrunner Field to clinch the regular-season title. UTSA finished in second place and bowed out of the C-USA tournament in two straight games.

Transitioning into the American Athletic Conference this season, UTSA has been picked to finish third even though standouts such as Simon Miller, Luke Malone, Antonio Valdez, Taylor Smith, Leyton Barry and Josh Killeen have moved on in their careers.

Hallmark, speaking to a reporter in his office at the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence on Monday morning, shrugged off the AAC preseason poll by saying that it doesn’t mean much.

“It doesn’t matter, to be honest,” he said. “Whether we were first, third or last, we still got to go out there and play good ball. Throw strikes. Play defense. Fight at the plate. That’s what I’m hoping we do.”

Notable

UTSA opens with a home series against UT-Arlington on Feb. 16.

Top returning position players for the Roadrunners include Matt King, who has moved from shortstop to play third base, outfielder Caleb Hill and infielder/outfielder Isaiah Walker. King has been named to the preseason all-AAC team. UTSA’s most productive returning pitchers would include Ulises Quiroga and Ruger Riojas.

Righthander Braylon Owens, who went 3-2 in 2022 but struggled last year, pitched well last weekend as the team played 23 innings intrasquad.

A couple of newcomers to watch are fleet outfielder Mason Lytle, a transfer from Oregon, and freshman pitcher Robert Orloski.

Lytle sat out most of last season with the Ducks with an injury, but in previous years he was .339 hitter in his career at San Jacinto College. Lytle played in high school at Pearland in the Houston area. Orloski, an Idaho native who completed high school last spring, was drafted in the 20th round in July by the Boston Red Sox. He did not sign and elected to play for the Roadrunners.

Simon Miller, a righthanded reliever, is expected to report to training camp with the Cincinnati Reds in coming weeks.

Roadrunners power past Owls 11-6 to complete a series sweep

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

If you’re looking for the most important storyline for UTSA in its sweep of the Rice Owls this weekend at Roadrunner Field, it would have to center on championship-caliber resilience and inner toughness. In winning three straight, the team had to come from behind each day.

On Friday, the Roadrunners erased deficits of four and three runs.

Saturday, on a day prolonged by a two-hour weather delay, they were down five runs twice early and came back to win again. Finally, in the finale on Sunday, they took a big early lead themselves, lost it momentarily, and then rumbled to score six runs in the sixth en route to an 11-6 victory.

Senior Leyton Barry capped the big inning with his eighth homer of the season and the first grand slam of his career.

As a result, the Roadrunners registered their fifth series sweep of the season, claimed their 36th victory — three shy of the school record — and seized significant momentum leading into next weekend’s Conference USA showdown against the Dallas Baptist Patriots.

“It feels great,” Barry said. “Any time you can get a sweep, it feels fantastic. Especially this weekend, because we came back in all three games. Especially the first two, when we were down by multiple runs. So to come back and win all those games, it feels even better than the other sweeps, just because we had to fight for these wins.”

As the weekend progressed, it was evident that power hitting would be a major factor. The Owls hit seven home runs, but the Roadrunners matched them with seven of their own. In the finale, Ben Royo and Guy Garibay Jr. powered balls out of the yard for Rice. UTSA answered with long balls by Antonio Valdez, Caleb Hill and Barry.

With UTSA trailing 6-5 going into its half of the sixth, Cristian Cienfuegos entered to pitch for Rice and Hill, one of the hottest hitters on the team, greeted him immediately with a solo homer. Matt King followed with a single and moved up 90 feet on a ground ball.

With Sammy Diaz at the plate, a key sequence unfolded. Diaz singled into right field, and when the throw came into the infield, it got away for an error. King scored easily to make it 7-6, while Diaz reached second base. The miscue seemed to rattle Cienfuegos, who promptly hit the next two batters with pitches to put three men on the bags.

At that point, Rice coaches lifted Cienfuegos, replacing him with Matt Linskey. But on the tall righthander’s first offering, Barry met it solidly and pulled it over the right field wall. In other words, four runs on one swing. As soon as he rounded the bases and met his teammates, he jumped up for the leaping arm-bump and took a seat. He was then greeted with a question.

“In the dugout, someone mentioned, ‘Hey, have you hit a grand slam before?’ Barry recalled. “I said, ‘You know, now that I think about it, I haven’t.’ So, that was pretty great.”

UTSA pitching had its ups and downs all weekend. Sunday was no different. Fischer Kingsbery started and worked two innings. He struck out three but yielded a long homer to Royo, his second of the series, which cleared the wall in center field. Uli Quiroga had a rough go of it, giving up five runs in the fourth inning, including a three-run homer by Guy Garibay, Jr.

Fortunately for the Roadrunners, Ruger Riojas (5-0) was on his game. Entering in the fifth inning, he pitched all the way into the eighth. In 3 and 1/3 scoreless innings, he gave up five hits. Two came in the eighth, which prompted UTSA to replace him with Ryan Beaird, who got out of the inning on a deep fly ball by Aaron Smigelski. Beaird finished with 1 and 1/3 innings of shutout ball, yielding only one hit.

For Beaird, it was his second strong outing of the weekend. He pitched one shutout inning Friday night and earned the victory. Though his season has been marked with some inconsistency, the Roadrunners are happy to see him throwing well going into the last two weeks of the regular season.

“It feels good,” said Beaird, a sophomore from Reagan High School. “It’s nice to know that I have eight other guys playing for me, willing to put themselves on the line to play for me. Every single one of those guys out there, they’re playing hard. It’s nice to have that when you’re on the mound.”

Records

Rice 17-30, 7-17
UTSA 36-12, 19-4

Series glance

Friday: UTSA beats Rice, 9-7…UTSA trailed 4-0 and 7-4 and then rallied.
Saturday: UTSA beats Rice, 10-8…Trailed 5-0 and 6-1 and, after a weather delay, rallied again.
Sunday: UTSA beats Rice, 11-6…Trailed 6-5 and scored six runs in the sixth.

Coming up

Dallas Baptist at UTSA, a three-game series starting Friday at 6 p.m.

C-USA standings

Dallas Baptist 20-4, 36-12
UTSA 19-4, 36-12
Charlotte 13-10, 24-23
Louisiana Tech 13-11, 24-25
FAU 12-12, 28-20
Western Kentucky 12-12, 27-21
Middle Tennessee 12-12, 23-23
Rice 7-17, 17-30
UAB 6-18, 15-31
FIU 5-19, 18-29

Notable

UTSA center fielder Shane Sirdashney, a .361 hitter and a standout defensively, is battling a leg injury that has kept him out for most of the last three weeks. Coach Pat Hallmark is hopeful but is uncertain if he’ll have him against Dallas Baptist.

Sirdashney played a few innings in the loss to Sam Houston State last week but wasn’t on the team’s 27-man roster this weekend against Rice. For the season, Sirdashney has 53 hits and has scored 41 runs, so his loss is significant.

“He’s continuing to get treated and has seen a couple of different doctors,” Hallmark said. “It’s a hamstring injury, and hamstrings are tricky. We’re doing well without him. But he’s such a good player, it’d be silly to say we’re fine without him.”

Hallmark said his team has been dealing with a series of injuries to key players over the last three weeks.

“The injuries are worrisome,” he said. “We’ve had ’em for three weeks. Shane and Isaiah (Walker) got the leg issues and (Tye) Odom’s got the back. (Antonio) Valdez is playing hurt. So, in the back of my mind, it’s worrisome, because those are really good players. But we’ve got guys stepping up … I’m proud of the whole team. Guys are doing everything they can to win.”

Bullpen-rich UTSA holds off Western Kentucky to clinch a C-USA home series

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Right now, Pat Hallmark has more aces than a card shark in poker.

Just when you think he’s in trouble in a baseball game, the coach of the UTSA Roadrunners looks down to the bullpen and motions for another pitcher to get loose.

Most of the time, the move serves to frustrate the opposing team.

Hallmark was up to his old tricks again Saturday. His starter didn’t make it through the third inning, so he called on freshman Ruger Riojas.

Riojas, Daniel Shafer and Simon Miller combined for 6 and 1/3 innings of relief on a hot and muggy afternoon, helping the Roadrunners hold off the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 5-4.

As a result, UTSA (22-6, 7-1) won its first two in a three-game home series to maintain its hold on first place in Conference USA.

Western Kentucky (16-12, 2-6) battled hard and held a 2-1 lead through the middle of the fourth inning.

But after UTSA scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth, an outburst highlighted by Josh Killeen’s two-out, two-run single, the Roadrunners never trailed again.

Though the Roadrunners have scored C-USA series victories against FAU, Rice and Western Kentucky, their ride hasn’t been without its bumps.

For instance, coming into the weekend, a once red-hot offense cooled off a bit and UTSA lost three of five overall, all on the road, including non-conference losses at UT-Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

The offense remains in something of a funk, having struck for only four hits in a 3-2 victory Friday night and six more on Saturday.

Thanks to the pitching, though, UTSA has a chance to go for the sweep tomorrow.

“We’re kind of a little displaced with the offense at the moment,” Killeen said. “Hitting comes and goes. It kind of comes in waves. So it’s good to take the series already.”

Riojas (3-0) pitched three innings, yielding single runs in the fourth and in the sixth, to earn the victory.

More importantly to the big picture, he remained undefeated in his first season of college baseball out of Wimberley High School.

“He’s a great pitcher for us,” Killeen said. “We saw it in the fall. He has a really good fastball that kind of takes off out of his hand. Mixes with a pretty good breaker that he hits for strikes.

We like that. And he also can throw his change up pretty well, too. It’s also hard. It’s not a floating changeup. But, he’s got a lot of confidence. We knew that from the start.”

Riojas just looks comfortable on the mound. Even though he entered in the top of the third with bases loaded in a 1-1 game, the 5-foot-11 righthander escaped unscathed by getting a ground ball to end the inning.

“Just wanted to do my job,” he said, “throw strikes and hit my spots as best I could each and every pitch.”

Western Kentucky touched him for four hits as he worked into the sixth inning, including a solo home run by Ty Batusich leading off the fourth.

But he didn’t walk anyone, which has become a trademark. Riojas has walked only five while striking out 22 in 21 innings this season.

His earned run average has increased over his past few outings against Rice and WKU, respectively, but it’s still a more than respectable 3.00 for the season.

“Honestly, I think it’s going really good (for me),” Riojas said, “trusting my stuff, trusting my defense. Just letting my body work as it should … I love it. Just happy to be out there.”

Teammates say Riojas has played quite a bit of baseball in his career, which accounts for his poise in tough situations.

“It’s a lot different than high school,” he said. “I played at a small 4A in the area. There wasn’t as much competition as there is here. Every hitter you face here is good. Staying on top of that I think (is important).”

It also helps that when he gets in trouble, as he did in the sixth when he yielded a two-out single and then hit a batter, he had Shafer to come in behind him.

Though Bret Blomquist greeted Shafer with an RBI double down the line, that was the extent of the damage. With runners at second and third, Andrew Delaney popped up in the infield to end the threat, leaving UTSA with a 5-3 lead going into the late innings.

Shafer retired three straight in the seventh and three of four in the eighth, keeping WKU off the board in each inning.

In the ninth, Shafer was about the close out the game, but a throwing error by first baseman Sammy Diaz on a potential double play ball loaded the bases and kept the door open for the Hilltoppers.

Aidan Gilroy responded with a fly ball that brought in a run for the final 5-4 margin. But with dangerous Drew Reckart coming to the plate, Hallmark didn’t want to take any chances. He called for Miller, who is enjoying one of the best seasons statistically in the nation.

Miller struck out Reckart on three pitches for his fifth save of the season and his second in two days. On the last pitch, WKU’s runs batted in leader was caught looking, as a Miller slider bit down to catch the inside corner.

“Sometimes his slider likes to break hard, and then sometimes it kind of sits,” Killeen said. “It’s hard to hit if you don’t know which slider is coming. That was pretty impressive by him, that last (at bat).”

Records

Western Kentucky 16-12, 2-6
UTSA 22-6, 7-1

Coming up

Western Kentucky at UTSA, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

Notable

With the series finale scheduled Sunday afternoon, the Roadrunners have the best record after 28 games (22-6) in school history, one game ahead of the 1994 team (21-7).

For perspective, Coach Jimmy Shankle’s ’94 team was 12-3 at home and 9-4 on the road in its opening 28. This year, by contrast, Hallmark’s fourth UTSA team has played a home-heavy schedule. UTSA is 17-3 at Roadrunner Field and 5-3 on the road …

Catchers normally don’t bat leadoff, but Josh Killeen isn’t paying attention to that. With Hallmark tweaking the lineup, the senior from Reagan High School is just trying to make hard contact.

He’s hit in the No. 1 hole the past two games. On Friday night, Killeen went one for three and scored a run. On Saturday, he went two for four and drove in two. In the process, he boosted his batting average to .362, which is No. 2 on the team.

“I enjoy the position,” Killeen said. “I think it’s great. I’m just sticking with my approach. Not trying to do anything more, anything less. A lot of people like to think, ‘Oh, you get to see more pitches.’ I just like to see a pitch and hammer it.” …

Simon Miller, in 12 appearances this season, has constructed a 6-0 win-loss record, with an 0.59 ERA. At the start of the week, he led the nation with an 0.64 ERA and was also tied for the national lead with the six victories. He’s had saves in UTSA’s two home games this weekend, boosting his season total to five.

JB’s video replay