By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Taylor Smith and Matt King delivered grand slams in a 21-hit attack for the UTSA Roadrunners, who stormed to a 22-8 Conference USA victory over the FIU Panthers Friday night in Miami.
Smith produced six RBIs, King had five and Garrett Poston four for the 22nd-ranked Roadrunners, who bounced back from a Tuesday-night home loss to non-conference rival Texas State and won going away in the opener of a three-game C-USA series.
FIU opened early leads of 1-0 and 3-2 on the C-USA leaders before UTSA’s offense came to life. The Roadrunners scored in five straight innings and capped the streak with a 10-run seventh.
UTSA also improved to 29-9 on the season and to 13-2 in the C-USA, remaining a half game ahead of the second-place Dallas Baptist Patriots.
C-USA newcomer Dallas Baptist won at home, beating Louisiana Tech 9-1, to extend its winning streak to 12 games. DBU has won nine in a row on its C-USA schedule.
UTSA at FIU, Saturday at 4 p.m. Also, Sunday at 11 a.m.
UTSA 29-9, 13-2
FIU 15-23, 3-13
UTSA 13-2, 29-9
Dallas Baptist 13-3, 29-9
Shane Sirdashney, Isaiah Walker and Tye Odom were not in the starting lineup for UTSA. The three have been battling injuries.
Utilizing a double and two singles, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second against UTSA’s Luke Malone. Ryne Guida got the rally started with a double down the left field line. Henry Wallen’s two-out RBI single brought home the first run of the game. FIU left runners stranded at first and second when Malone struck out Noel Perez to end the threat.
The Roadrunners answered against FIU’s Angel Tiburcio with two runs in the third. Sammy Diaz led off with a single. With one out, Leyton Barry slapped a single to left field and Taylor Smith walked. Antonio Valdez, the next batter, singled to right for two RBIs and a 2-1 lead for the Roadrunners.
Undeterred, the Panthers jumped on Malone again in the bottom half with a game-tying leadoff homer from Mike Rosario. Dante Girardi followed with a hit and Alec Sanchez bunted to put runners at first and second. With one out, Guida delivered an RBI double to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Malone worked out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Wallen and Brendan Roney to end the threat.
Even though the damage could have been worse, a decision loomed for UTSA coaches on Malone, who had thrown 60 pitches and yielded seven hits to that point.
The Roadrunners, playing from behind, continued to attack in the top of the fourth. Matt King led off with a double and moved to third on a fly ball by Dalton Porter. Sammy Diaz hit an RBI single to make it a 3-3 ball game. UTSA didn’t stop there, as Garrett Poston and Leyton Barry singled to load the bases.
Taylor Smith, the team’s home run leader, took advantage of the base-loaded opportunity with a grand slam. At that point, UTSA was rolling again, leading 7-3. It was Smith’s 10th home run of the season. FIU’s Tiburcio, however, steadied himself and retired Antonio Valdez and Josh Killeen to end the uprising and the inning.
For Malone, who entered the game with a 2.40 earned run average, it wasn’t his best start of the season. But the bottom of the fourth might have been one of his more gutsy moments this spring. FIU had him on the ropes again with a couple of one-out singles. In response, he got tough, retiring Sanchez on a pop fly and Ruben Carpio on a ground ball. UTSA had held FIU scoreless for the first time since the first inning.
In the top of the fifth, Tiburcio didn’t make it to the end of the inning. The Roadrunners loaded the bases with a single, a walk and a hit by pitch. At that point, FIU pulled its starter and replaced him with CJ McKennitt. UTSA’s Garrett Poston promptly greeted McKennitt with a two-RBI single, making it 9-3. Taylor Smith struck out swinging to end the inning, but not before the Roadrunners increased their totals to 11 hits.
To this point, the narrative to this point for the Roadrunners revolved around the resilience of Malone, plus an offense that came alive behind Smith, a transfer from Texas A&M, and Poston, who entered the game with a .181 batting average and delivered with two hits in three at bats and a couple of RBIs. Malone worked smoothly through the bottom of the fifth, retiring three straight.
For the Panthers, the game turned a little ugly in the sixth. McKennitt walked three and fired a passed ball as UTSA scored three runs for a 12-3 lead. Poston emerged to punish the Panthers again with a run-scoring single. Poston, a utility player who’s manning right field tonight against FIU, has produced three hits and four RBIs.
Going into the bottom half of the sixth, the Roadrunners started out with Malone and then inserted Ryan Ward.
Malone had one of his more adventurous outings, throwing 101 pitches and 61 of them for strikes. In completing five and 2/3 innings, UTSA’s ace starter yielded five runs on 10 hits. The last one was a two-run homer by Girardi that pulled FIU to within 12-5. Keeping the rally going, FIU tagged Ward with a couple of hits before Guida struck out looking to end the threat.
In the seventh, the Roadrunners tagged the Panthers for 10 runs on eight hits. The big blow was a grand slam by Matt King. After it was over, UTSA held a 22-5 lead.