UTSA rides Malone, rallies to win opener in CUSA tournament

Luke Malone pitched nine innings in relief as UTSA beat FAU 6-4. He raised his season record to 7-3. - file photo

Luke Malone pitched nine innings in relief as UTSA beat FAU 6-4. He raised his season record to 7-3. – file photo

(Updated with results of Games 5, 6 and 7 and remaining schedule)

UTSA rallied twice to beat Florida Atlantic 6-4 on Thursday in the Conference USA baseball tournament.

The victory keeps UTSA in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. It also potentially strengthens UTSA’s argument for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.

UTSA (36-19) plays its next game Friday at 10 a.m. against top-seeded Southern Miss.

First pitch of the Roadrunners’ first-round game was delayed by 13 1/2 hours after Wednesday rain delays in Hattiesburg, Miss. pushed UTSA’s opener from Wednesday night to Thursday morning.

UTSA ace Luke Malone turned in a monster performance, pitching nine innings in relief. He entered the game with FAU runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the first. The two inherited runners scored as the Owls took their early lead.

“Luke was fabulous,” UTSA coach Pat Hallmark said in a postgame interview on ESPN+. “We need to do a little better with hitting with a man on third and one out. But we’re always looking for areas to improve. But the kids were gritty. They’ve been gritty all year.”

Malone limited FAU to two runs the rest of the way. He gave up six hits with four strikeouts and one walk and threw 107 pitches.

Florida Atlantic got two men on base in the bottom of the eighth, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate. UTSA had two pitchers warming up in the bullen and Hallmark went to the mound to visit Malone. Hallmark stuck with Malone and the veteran right-hander from Round Rock finished the game with three straight scoreless innings.

“I just wanted to see how he felt,” Hallmark said. “He pitched a long time. So that was the first thing was just how he felt.

“He’s not going to tell me he doesn’t feel good. But I know him pretty well. I can look him in the eyes and see if he’s BSing or if he really feels good. And I believed him. He felt good. He looked good. His eyes didn’t look fatigued or anything. His heart rate was slow. We kept him in and fortunately it worked out.”

UTSA went in front for good with two runs in the top of the eighth. Matt King’s sacrifice fly scored Chase Keng to break a 4-4 tie. Jonathan Tapia added a two-out single that scored Ian Bailey from second to stretch the lead to 6-4.

UTSA scored twice in the top of the sixth to take its first lead of the game and go up 4-3. Killeen scored the go-ahead run on an error. Leyton Barry recorded his third hit of game to lead off the inning. He scored on an Bailey hit to tie it 3-3.

Florida Atlantic’s Nolan Schanuel hit a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to tie it 4-4.

UTSA loaded the bases in the top of the second. The Roadrunners scored with two outs on a ground ball that was mishandled to cut FAU’s lead to 2-1.

UTSA’s Keng hit a solo homer in the top of the fourth to even the game 2-2.

UTSA pitcher Braylon Owens made only his second start of the season and struggled to find the strike zone. He walked the two batters he faced and was replace by Malone.

Notable:

– Barry had hits in his first three times up. He was 4-for-4 on Saturday, so he had hits in seven straight at-bats over two games. He scored two of UTSA’s first four runs today.

– Keng also had three hits, including his ninth home run of the season.

– Bailey had three hits.

– UTSA finished with 13 hits. Florida Atlantic had six.

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

Game 1: Old Dominion 18, Middle Tennessee 7 (7 innings)

Game 2: Louisiana Tech 4, Charlotte 0

Game 3: Southern Miss 4, UAB 3

Game 4: UTSA vs. Florida Atlantic, postponed until Thursday, 9 a.m.

THURSDAY’S GAMES

Game 4: UTSA 6, Florida Atlantic 4

Game 5: Charlotte 22, Middle Tennessee 0

Game 6: Louisiana Tech 7, Old Dominion 2

Game 7: Florida Atlantic 11, UAB 1 (7 innings)

Game 8: Southern Miss vs. UTSA, postponed until Friday, 10 a.m.

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 8: UTSA vs. Southern Miss, 10 a.m.

Game 9: Charlotte vs. Old Dominion, 1:30 p.m.

Game 10: UTSA-Southern Miss loser vs. Florida Atlantic, 5 p.m.

SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 11: Lousiana Tech vs. TBD, 9 a.m.

Game 12: UTSA-Southern Miss winner vs. Game 10 winner, 12:30 p.m.

Game 13: TBD, if necessary, 4 p.m.

Game 14: TBD, if necessary, 7:30

SUNDAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 15: Championship, 1 p.m.

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