By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Taylor Smith hit two homers Friday night as the UTSA Roadrunners downed the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 5-3, to clinch a weekend series in Conference USA baseball.
Coming into the three-game series at Ruston, La., the Roadrunners had lost four straight games. But in the first two of a three-game series at J.C. Love Field, the Roadrunners have prevailed by two runs in both contests, pushing their record for the season to 38-16, including 21-7 in the C-USA.
On Thursday night, they hit five home runs in an 18-16 victory in 11 innings. On Friday, they hit three more, including back-to-back shots by Smith and Antonio Valdez in the first inning. Smith added another solo shot in the ninth to give him six home runs in three games this week.
The senior from Georgetown hit one homer at Abilene Christian on Tuesday. He added three more at LA Tech on Thursday night. And now, with the two on Friday, he increased his team-leading total to 17 on the season. In the three games, Smith has totaled nine hits in 16 at bats. In addition, he has produced 10 RBIs.
In the pitching department, junior Ryan Ward from Clemens High School pitched a season-high five innings to earn the victory. He allowed only two runs on two hits. Drake Smith (no relation to Taylor Smith) yielded only one run on one hit and struck out six in four innings to close the game.
With the victory, the Roadrunners clinched their 12th weekend series of the season, improving to 12-1-1 in series on the weekend. They split two games in a rain-shortened series on the road at Charlotte and lost all three games to Dallas Baptist a week ago at home.
The team’s latest win also moved the Roadrunners to within one of tying the school record for victories in a season. The record of 39 was set in 1994 and was tied in 2008. They’ll have a chance to tie the mark when they play LA Tech Saturday at noon in the series finale.
The C-USA tournament is set for next week in Houston.
UTSA 21-7, 38-16
Louisiana Tech 14-15, 26-29
UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, noon (regular-season finale)
Conference USA tournament, May 24-28, at Reckling Park in Houston
In the second game of a Conference USA baseball series, UTSA is playing on the road tonight in Ruston, La., against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. UTSA took the first game of the series, 18-16, in 11 innings Thursday night. Reed Smith is on the mound for LA Tech against Ryan Ward for UTSA.
With one out in the top of the first, UTSA’s Taylor Smith (no relation) stepped to the plate with one out and hit a solo homer. Antonio Valdez followed with another solo shot. After Matt King singled, Smith settled down and retired Caleb Hill and Josh Killeen to get out of it, setting the stage for Ward to take the mound for the Roadrunners, protecting a 2-0 lead.
For Smith, his first at bat served as a continuation of a remarkable week. On Tuesday, the senior from Georgetown belted a grand slam in UTSA’s 10-8 loss at Abilene Christian. Last night, Smith hit three homers in the first game of the series against the Bulldogs. The blast off LA Tech’s Reed Smith was his fifth homer of the week and his team-leading 16th of the season.
Ward is a 6-foot-2 junior from Clemens, a righthander who entered the contest with an 0-1 record and a 5.50 earned run average. To this point, Ward had appeared in nine games this season and had pitched 18 innings. In the first inning against the Bulldogs, Ward threw strikes and retired three in a row, a welcome sign for a team that had to throw a lot of pitches Thursday night in the series opener.
In response, Reed Smith came out and had a much better experience with UTSA batting in the top of the second. He retired three straight, setting up his teammates to do some damage in the bottom half. That’s exactly what happened. With one out, Phil Matulia doubled. Later, Logan McLeod reached on a two-out, hit by pitch. Two men were on, at first and second. Phil Hasler took advantage of the situation, ripping a double to left field that scored both runners, tying the score, 2-2.
LA Tech starter Reed Smith is settling into the game nicely. After getting lit up for two home runs in the first inning, he’s held UTSA scoreless in the second, third and fourth innings.
During that stretch, he’s yielded a double to Taylor Smith in the and an infield single. But he’s kept the game under control against an explosive offense. Buoyed by Smith’s turn of fortune, the Bulldogs came to bat in the bottom of the fourth, with the game tied 2-2, trying to make something happen against Ward and the Roadrunners.
In the fourth, Ward started to rise to the challenge. Outside of a two-out walk, he didn’t give up a thing, with Kyle Hasler popping up for the third out. It was his second straight scoreless inning.
By the fifth, the Roadrunners brought Dalton Porter to the plate to lead off, and he sent a blast into left field for a double and then took third on a ground ball out. Next, Taylor Smith walked to put runners at the corner, and Smith stole second base to set up a second-and-third situation for Matt King. King delivered with a two-run single up the middle, lifting the Roadrunners to a 4-2 lead.
As the game moved into the middle innings, the major storyline for the Roadrunners centered on Ward. In only his 10th appearance of the season, he worked five innings, yielding only two runs on two hits. Ward walked three and struck out one in his longest outing of the year. Previously, his season-best was three innings. The most pitches he had thrown in a game? Fifty seven, against Stephen F. Austin, back in March. Against the Bulldogs, he threw 71 pitches, 39 of them for strikes and exited with a 4-2 lead.
With Drake Smith on the mound, the Roadrunners made it through the sixth inning unscathed. But the Bulldogs got it going in the seventh, drawing a leadoff walk and turning it into a run with Dalton Davis’ two-out RBI double. Smith, throwing well, struck out the next batter to retire the side. He struck out three in the inning, allowing UTSA to take a 4-3 lead into the eighth.
In the eighth, it was more of the same for the Bulldogs, who couldn’t figure out Smith. The UTSA righthander set down the opposition 1-2-3, picking up a strikeout along the way, sending the game to the ninth inning with the Roadrunners leading 4-3.
UTSA’s offense had been dormant for three innings. In the sixth through the eighth, it had done little damage and had been held scoreless in each frame. Until the ninth. UTSA’s Taylor Smith hit another home run, his second of the game, to boost the Roadrunners into a 5-3 lead. Smith has two homers tonight and six in three games this week. The senior from Georgetown has 17 for the season.