Three Texas-based, mid majors vie for NCAA bids today

UTEP men's basketball coach Joe Golding at the Miners' game against UTSA at the Convocation Center on Feb. 11, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Joe Golding’s UTEP Miners rallied from a 14-point deficit in the last 13 minutes Friday to stun the top-seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats in the Conference USA tournament. The Miners will play for the conference’s postseason title today against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Huntsville, Ala. — Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

With Selection Sunday looming tomorrow for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the state of Texas is looking good with nine possible entries in the 68-team field.

Not to mention a San Antonio native who coaches an out-of-state program.

Three mid-majors from the state will play for automatic bids today, including the UTEP Miners in Conference USA, the Texas Southern Tigers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the UT Arlington Mavericks in the Western Athletic Conference.

Coach Joe Golding’s Miners will take on the Steve Lutz-coached Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Huntsville, Ala., for the C-USA title at 7:30 tonight on the CBS Sports Network.

In Birmingham, at Bartow Arena, the SWAC title is up for grabs between Johnny Jones‘ Texas Southern Tigers and the Grambling State (La.) Tigers. Jones’ Tigers are looking for their fourth straight trip to the NCAA’s Big Dance. Tipoff is at 8:30 on ESPN Plus.

Later in the evening, in Las Vegas, the WAC championship will tip off at 10:30 p.m., matching a UT Arlington team coached by former Kentucky and Texas assistant KT Turner against the Grand Canyon (Ariz.) University Lopes at 10:30 p.m., also on ESPN Plus.

Other teams from the state expected to make the field of 68 include the Houston Cougars, the Baylor Bears, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Texas Longhorns and the TCU Horned Frogs — all from the Big 12 — and the Southeastern Conference’s Texas A&M Aggies.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Kelvin Sampson has led the Houston Cougars to a 30-3 record entering play today against the Iowa State Cyclones for the Big 12 title. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Led by coach Kelvin Sampson, the Big 12 regular-season champion Cougars are in good shape for an NCAA No. 1 regional seed going into today’s postseason conference title game against Iowa State.


Lutz is a San Antonio native who played at East Central High School and in college in Seguin at Texas Lutheran College, now Texas Lutheran University. He is in his first year at Western Kentucky after leading the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders to two straight NCAA appearances. His last two teams at A&M-Corpus Christi went 23-12 and 24-11.

Seeded third in the C-USA tournament, Lutz’s Hilltoppers (21-11) lost four in a row to close out the regular season before turning it all around in the postseason in Alabama, where they rebounded to win tournament games against the New Mexico State Aggies and the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

On Friday, the Hilltoppers demolished the Blue Raiders 85-54 by locking down defensively and then shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 50 percent (11 of 22) from the three-point line.

The Miners, meanwhile, will take their own momentum into the championship match. UTEP (18-15) trailed in Friday’s semifinals by 14 points with 13 minutes remaining. At that point, they rallied to knock off the regular-season champion and No. 1-seeded Sam Houston Bearkats, 65-63.

In his third season in El Paso, Golding is looking to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time in six seasons, making it previously in 2019 and 2021 at Abilene Christian University. A highlight came in 2021 when the Wildcats won the Southland Conference postseason title en route to an NCAA upset of the third-seeded Texas Longhorns. A prominent member of Golding’s staff at UTEP is Jeremy Cox, a former assistant at UTSA.

The SWAC tournament finals features a Texas coaching legend in Jones, who recently won the 400th game in his 25-year career. Jones has also had head coaching stops at Memphis, North Texas and LSU. He led the Mean Green to NCAA appearances in 2007 and 2010. At LSU, he had one NCAA trip in 2015. The coach worked his postseason magic particularly well last spring, when his team rose up as the eighth seed and beat No. 1 Grambling, 61-58, in the SWAC finals.

This year, curiously, Texas Southern won on the road and lost at home for a 1-1 split against Grambling during the regular season.

For UT Arlington, coach Turner’s first season has been a wild ride. His Mavericks lost nine of their first 15 games before gaining some traction and momentum. Right now, they’re on a 14-4 run, and they’ll enter the title game against GCU with a record of 20-13. In a game that started late Friday night and finished early Saturday morning, Brandyn Talbot hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left to lift third-seeded Arlington to a 87-84 victory over No. 2 Tarleton State.

Turner has worked under the likes of Gregg Marshall (at Wichita State), Larry Brown and Tim Jankovic (SMU), Porter Moser (at Oklahoma), Shaka Smart (Texas) and John Calipari (Kentucky).

A&M-Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz at the UTSA Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

San Antonio native Steve Lutz, an East Central High School graduate, has a chance to reach the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. His Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are playing the UTEP Miners tonight in Alabama for the Conference USA crown and the NCAA automatic bid. – photo by Joe Alexander

Baumann’s walkoff winner lifts UTSA to a doubleheader sweep

Aiden Baumann delivers the winning hit, and the UTSA Roadrunners celebrate a 2-1 victory and a doubleheader sweep of UT Arlington. – Video by UTSA athletics

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

On a cold and blustery February afternoon in San Antonio, pinch hitter Aiden Baumann’s two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored the winning run Saturday in a 2-1 victory for the UTSA Roadrunners over the UT Arlington Mavericks.

With the win, UTSA swept a doubleheader on the second day of the season. UT Arlington won the season opener Friday night, holding on in the ninth inning to take a 10-9 decision.

In response, the Roadrunners bounced back to claim victory in the first game of the double dip Saturday, winning 7-2 in seven innings. After a short break to catch their breath, the two teams played again, this time in a nine-inning contest.

Zach Royse pumps his fist after striking out the final batter he faced. UTSA beat UT-Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Zach Royse pumps his fist after striking out the final batter he faced. UTSA beat UT Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Baumann, a part-time player in his first appearance of the season and in only the 10th appearance of his career, delivered with a hit to right field that ended the day’s proceedings, giving UTSA a 2-1 edge in the season-opening series.

The two teams will play the finale of the four-game set on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Roadrunner Field.

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark praised his players’ mental toughness in setting aside Friday night’s disappointment and responding with solid play, on a day with difficult weather conditions, to claim their first two wins of the season.

“It was a better day,” Hallmark said. “We just played tougher … You know, this game is not easy. Failure is part of it. Being able to fail and turn around and make the next play. All those little things.”

Someone asked Hallmark in the postgame about his team’s resilience.

“I said we were resilient today, but it’s (only) three games (into the season),” he said. “We need to be resilient 30 games into it. I hope we’re still as resilient (then) as we were today, and I think we will be. It’s a good sign.”

The first game of the day was highlighted by a few standout defensive plays, including one that featured second baseman Isaiah Walker leaping to catch a line drive and flipping the ball to second base to double off a runner, effectively taking away a couple of runs while ending the inning.

Third baseman Matt King also hit the highlight reel on a foul pop up that came down just outside the field of play. King dashed toward the falling spheroid on its descent, collided with a waist-high wall and made the catch while falling into an area where fans usually sit.

Ty Tilson. UTSA beat UT-Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Ty Tilson takes a rip during an at bat in Game 2 .of Saturday’s doubleheader. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Starting pitcher Ruger Riojas earned the victory in allowing two runs in 5 and 2/3 innings of work. The sophomore from Wimberley struck out six while walking none.

In the second game, which started a little after 3 p.m., players, coaches and fans were fortunate that temperature rose into the high 40s on a sunny afternoon. But the wind whipped in from the northeast for the entire game, blowing so hard that it kept the flags fluttering constantly.

As for fans seated around the ball park in the shade, some huddled under blankets.

Others moved into sunny areas as the shadows extended. By the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, the rightfield berm became a popular gathering spot. Fans stood with hands plunged into coat pockets, watching as both teams moved ominously toward what looked like it might be a 1-1 tie going into extra innings.

The Roadrunners, however, had other ideas. With lefthander Austin Wallace entering the game in the ninth for Arlington, UTSA’s Mark Henning opened the inning with a line shot that got past third baseman Tate Bethel and down the line.

Arlington leftfielder Ryan Ellis tracked it down and fired into second base, but by that time, Henning had a full head of steam, and he dove into second base head first — well ahead of the throw — for a double.

At that point, Wallace retired James Taussig and Ty Tilson on fly ball outs, with fans gasping on each play.

Taussig’s line drive to right field might have been one of the hardest hit balls all afternoon. It was a rocket. But it went straight to rightfielder Tyson Pointer for the first out. Tilson followed by stroking a ball into right center that looked like it had a chance to fall, only to have centerfielder Garrison Berkley come sprinting toward it to make a sliding catch for out No. 2.

Broc Parmer. UTSA beat UT-Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Catcher Broc Parmer worked nine innings behind the plate in the second game of a doubleheader. – Photo by Joe Alexander

From there, Hallmark elected to send Baumann, a right-handed batter, to the plate to pinch hit for the left-side hitting Dalton Porter.

Baumann came through with only his third hit in a UTSA uniform to win the game. Fittingly, when he sliced it down the rightfield line, some drama ensued. Pointer ran hard and dove for it. Just as the ball hit into his glove, it popped out onto the grass.

As Henning rounded third, raced for the plate and touched home for the winning run, one gaggle of Arlington fans seemed transfixed on the nearly spectacular catch that wasn’t made. With the ball on the turf, they fell silent. Meanwhile, UTSA fans celebrated, and Roadrunners players dashed out of the dugout and onto the field to mob Baumann.

Baumann said it was almost like a blessing that the wind was blowing in so hard.

“If the wind’s not blowing like that, the ball is probably caught,” he said. “When the wind’s blowing in like that, there’s always a chance.”

Baumann said the walkoff game winner was his second in the last calendar year. The first came last summer when he was playing summer ball in Jefferson City, Mo. His hit on Sunday had a different feel.

“This feels great,” said Baumann, who once played for the New Braunfels High School Unicorns. “We’re really close as a team. I know we’ve got a lot of new guys. But we’ve been around each other since the fall, working hard together. This means a lot for this team.”

Zach Royse and Braylon Owens pitched well to hold Arlington down. Royse worked six innings and allowed only a run in the fifth inning. In the meantime, he kept Arlington batters off balance, allowing only three hits while striking out six and walking three. Owens, meanwhile, yielded two hits in three scoreless innings to earn the win in relief. He struck out three and walked one.

Braylon Owens pitched the final three innings in relief and earned the win. UTSA beat UT-Arlington 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Braylon Owens pitched three scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in a 2-1 victory over UT Arlington. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s defense late in the game was solid, particularly first baseman James Taussig, who deftly dug out a couple of balls on throws from the infield.


UT Arlington 1-2
UTSA 2-1

Coming up

UT Arlington at UTSA, Sunday at 1 p.m.
UTSA at Tarleton State, Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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

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

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

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up

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

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

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

Opening day: UTSA baseball coach on the lookout for ‘hunger and determination’ in his players

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

The UTSA Roadrunners will open a new baseball season at home today against the UT Arlington Mavericks. First pitch is at 4 p.m. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Over the past few seasons, baseball players at UTSA didn’t always match up in talent with the players they were tasked with defeating.

The one thing they did have was a core of leaders that embraced competition so eagerly and so completely, that the Roadrunners won 38 games in each of the past two years.

With that, UTSA athletes also won the undying respect of their coach, Pat Hallmark.

In retrospect, Hallmark will tell anyone who will listen that those two intangibles — a hunger to compete and a determination not to lose — are foundational to any winning program.

Two years ago, players such as Johnny Tapia and Ryan Flores just didn’t want to concede defeat. Same thing last year. With Luke Malone and Simon Miller and others, the Roadrunners found inspiration to play at a higher level.

With a new UTSA baseball season dawning today, all four of those players and others have moved on in their lives and in their careers, which is a bit unsettling for the coach.

Why? Because even though he knows he will have quite a bit of talent at his disposal this weekend against UT Arlington and in the coming months, he doesn’t know for sure whether his new players will have the essentials.

In other words, the hunger and the determination.

“We’ve certainly seen some signs of that,” Hallmark said a few days ago. “But until you get someone with a different color uniform that kind of hates your guts and wants to take something away from you, you don’t really know. So, we’ll find that out starting Friday.”

“It’ll take a little time to figure that out, who likes that confrontation.”

Through fall practices and conditioning, the coach said he can’t always tell who will bring the intangibles to the table.

“We’re about to play some people that don’t want the best for us,” he said. “And, likewise. We need to find 10, 11 guys that enjoy that (confrontation). That’s what we’ve had the last couple of years.”

Will it manifest itself today? The coach will be watching.

Coming up

Game 1 — UT Arlington at UTSA, 4 p.m. today.
Games 2 and 3 — UT Arlington at UTSA, doubleheader, with the first game at noon on Saturday.
Game 4 — UT Arlington at UTSA, 1 p.m. Sunday.


Pitching rotation: For UT Arlington — Zach Norris (2-2, 4.63 ERA last season) today. On Saturday, it’s Aaron Calhoun (0-1, 8.16 last season at Oklahoma) in the first game and then Caylon Dygert, a freshman, in the second game. Sunday’s starter is TBA. For UTSA — Freshman Robert Orloski today. On Saturday, Ruger Riojas (5-0, 4.11) in the first game and then Zach Royse (0-1, 9.58). On Sunday, TBA.

Outfielder Mason Lytle, a University of Oregon transfer, has opened eyes with his athleticism. But he’s not the only outfielder on the UTSA roster with speed and ability. Both Isaiah Walker and Tye Odom can run and track the ball, as well.

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

James Taussig is expected to bring some home-run power to the Roadrunners this season. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I would say this is a very athletic outfield,” third baseman Matt King said. “We have depth, whether it’s starters or the guys coming off the bench. I think they’re all athletic. They’re all going to make some plays. They can all play defense. So, yeah, outfield defense is something we should not have to worry about.”

Who will have home-run power? Among the newcomers, keep an eye on first baseman / designated hitter Alexander Olivo, infielder/outfielder James Taussig and infielder Zane Spinn. Also, among returning players, both King and Caleb Hill have both shown the ability to send the ball out of the yard.

Olivo may be the one to watch in the power department. He produced 13 homers and a .706 slugging percentage last year at Texas Southern. In addition, Taussig is known around the batting cage for exit velocity of more than 100 mph, tops on the team.

As many as seven teams from Texas could land NCAA bids

The 11th-ranked University of Houston Cougars and the UT Arlington Mavericks on Sunday will try to join two other programs in the state of Texas as automatic qualifiers in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Prairie View A&M and Abilene Christian qualified Saturday with victories in their respective conference tournament finals.

For Prairie View, it will be the school’s first NCAA appearance in 21 years. Abilene Christian has never made the Division I national tournament.

When the bracket is revealed later today, three Texas-based Big 12 squads likely will make the field.

Texas Tech and Baylor are considered locks, while TCU is probably in, as well, according to bracket projection analysts.

UT Arlington, under first-year coach Chris Ogden, plays Georgia State today in New Orleans for the Sun Belt Conference’s automatic bid.

The Mavericks will not make the NCAA field unless they win, meaning that they have much more riding on their game today than the Cougars.

The Cougars, regular-season champions in the American Athletic Conference, are expected to make the Big Dance as an at-large entry even if they lose today.

Houston is playing in Memphis against 24th-ranked Cincinnati.

Saturday’s highlights

Prairie View rallied from a 13-point, first-half deficit to stun the Texas Southern Tigers, 92-86, in the Southwestern Athletic Conference title game at Birmingham, Ala. Both the Panthers and Tigers shot 55 percent in the second half. Guard Gary Blackston had 17 points and six steals for Prairie View. The Panthers secured the school’s second NCAA bid and its first since 1998.

Abilene Christian routed New Orleans 77-60 at Katy for the Southland Conference crown behind Jaren Lewis, who had 20 points, six rebounds and three steals. The Wildcats moved from NCAA Division II to Division I six years ago. Under terms of the transition, they were ineligible to play in the SLC tournament for the first four years.

Conference USA

Regular-season champion Old Dominion earned the NCAA automatic bid with a 62-56 victory over former San Antonio prep standout Charles Bassey and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.