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

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

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series recap

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


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

AAC leaders

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

Coming up

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

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

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

JB’s video replay

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

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

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

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

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