The UT Arlington baseball season ended with two consecutive losses in the conference tournament. The Mavericks upset regular season co-champion South Alabama in the opening round, 4-2, behind 6.1 innings from starting pitcher Kadon Simmons. Jacob Moreland pitched 2.2 scoreless innings in relief for the save. That set up a second round match up with Georgia Southern, a team that beat UTA 2-1 at Clay Gould ballpark during the regular season.
UTA's Joel Kuhnel, part of a powerful 1-2 punch with Simmons, was injured during that regular-season series. He was in good health for the conference tournament and was slated to start. His performance looked good early, giving up 1 run in 2.2 innings on one hit and no walks. However, the UTA offense was listless and couldn't do anything themselves.
I've commented on how it seemed this team was one hit or pitch away from big things. In a very unsurprising way, even mother nature seemed to confine this team to mediocrity as a lightening delay called the game for the day. Despite pitching only 29 pitches, Kuhnel was done and with it, so were UTA's chances.
The blueprint would have been similar to the conference series' at the end of the year, Simmons and Kuhnel to pitch deep, then hope the offense can get one more run in game three. As soon as a I saw that Kuhnel was not going to pitch the next day, I just knew UTA's chances were done. Sure enough, Georgia Southern claimed a 6-0 win, thanks to five runs in the eighth inning to blow the game open.
That set up a rematch with South Alabama, a team who had been struggling late in the season. The matchup could have worked well for the Mavs, as the Jaguars don't have an offense that puts up runs by the bunches. Instead, they win by pitching and if UTA's offense could find any spark, they'd have a shot.
Ultimately though, the Sun Belt Conference's second best offense by batting average, was shut out for the second straight game. The Jaguars claimed a 3-0 win. To be fair, the Jags needed that win as they were a bubble team for an at-large bid into the tournament. A 1-2 record in the conference tournament would likely have shut them out. A .500 record would likely be mandatory. That fire and drive powered USA just enough and the Mavs went back to Arlington with a 1-2 record in the conference tournament for the second straight year.
So now we are left to wonder what will happen. UTA is guaranteed to lose five seniors, key among them Darien McLemore, Matt McLean and Jacob Moreland. UTA has been prodigious in producing draft picks the last few years, and UTA have a few juniors who could make claims they have the talent to be taken: Simmons, Kuhnel, Quintin Rohrbaugh and Brady Cox all put up good-to-great numbers this year. UTA could have a great chance next year if those juniors stay for a senior season. There will be a massive rebuilding project if all leave. Welcome to NCAA baseball.
MLB amatuer draft is this week. Stay tuned.
-TRACK AND FIELD
The two-time defending Sun Belt Conference champion UTA men's track and field team finished fourth at the three-day conference meet, scoring 99.5 points. On the women's side, UTA finished fifth, tallying 76.5 points.
Quick note on how the scoring works. The top eight places in an event score points for the team: 10 for a first, 8 for a second, 6 for a third, 5 for a fourth, etc until eighth place gets 1. Ties average the points out, 1.5 if there is a tie for seventh, for example.
It was rough early for both squads. The men scored 14 points at the end of day two, trailing first-place South Alabama by 43 points. UTA's strength is usually in the running events, while the field events have been a recent hallmark of the USA teams. Field events are usually done on day 2 while running events usually take place the final day, so the fact that the Mavs trailed USA wasn't a shocker. What was, however, was the sheer space between scores and the fact that UTA was in second-to-last place.
For the first time in a many years, UTA was out of the running for a conference championship before the final day. Arkansas State would actually win the meet with 149.5 points, followed by USA with 138. UTA's rival, Texas State, finished one spot ahead, scoring 118. A strong showing in the running events, with a couple of first place finishers, closed the gap from eighth to their final fourth place finish.
The same story line presented itself on the women's side. UTA trailed first place by 62.5 points en route to a seventh place finish after day two. Like the men, a strong running finish catapulted the Mavs to fifth place with 76.5 points. USA won the thing with 132.
The Mavs qualified for a total of eight event in the NCAA West Regional, the final meet before the national meet. The men sent four while the women also sent four. In a sign that the men's team hasn't been where they were the last few years, no one advanced to the national meet. Freshman Alexus Henry finished fifth in the regional to be the only Maverick on either side to advance. The meet is this Saturday.
In an outcome that shocks no one, UTA lost in their NCAA tourney appearance. However, they competed very well, especially in the pursuit of the doubles point. The Oklahoma Sooners needed the tiebreak in the third pair to get the point. After that, OU top two singles, who are both ranked in the top 25, quickly pushed the lead to 3-0.
UTA loses one senior and looks to build on the program record 18 wins garnered in the 2016 spring season.
I mentioned in my most previous post about the softball team that I thought they were a hair better than the conference record indicated. One of the games I thought UTA let slip away was the first game of the Troy series. Sure enough, UTA drew Troy to open the SBC tournament. In another sign that UTA was on the cusp, but not quite there, the Mavs dropped the game 3-2 in nine innings. UTA enters next year with a young team that gained experience this year.