Thursday, May 18, 2017

May '17 Quick Hits

First, congratulations to the UT Arlington Men's track and field team, which claimed its 11th outdoor conference championship this past weekend. In doing so, they also claimed a triple crown by winning the cross country, indoor and outdoor conference championships in the same year. This is the second time the program has accomplished the feat, doing it last in 2013-14. The Mavericks also hosted the conference meet, their first instance of doing so as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

UTA claimed 151 points in the three-day meet, besting second place Texas State by 35 points. They did it the way they have done recently, by dominating the track performance, and getting supporting roles in other events, like Christian Schiemann winning the decathlon. One of the great highlights was the Mavericks placing 1-2-3 in the 5,000 meter run as Michael Guerrero, Craig Lautenslager and Justin Domangue were the top three in the Sun Belt. That garnered UTA 24 points alone. Guerrero was also a multi-event winner.

In the video posted on UTAmavs.com, Coach John Sauerhage said something that really stuck out to me. As I was keeping updated on the meet (I had surgery the previous Friday and couldn't go), I was mildly put out at the number of sixth, seventh and eighth placings I was seeing. Yet, he was saying how much that meant to him and the team. I'll paraphrase, but not everyone can win or even medal. So the fifth-year player who finishes in the top eight and gets points for the team as a whole is very rewarding for the participant, and it helps the team out. Very well put by a very classy coach.

On the women's side, they finished third, scoring 103 points Texas State won the whole thing with 154.5 points, followed by Arkansas State with 118. UTA was as far down as fifth place late. Then the 4x400 meter relay won, jumping Appalachian State and South Alabama.

It was the best placing for the Mavericks since the WAC meet, when they finished second, also to Texas State. It is hard to be upset by a top three finish in any sport, but there is a pattern I'm not happy with, and that's losing to the Bobcats. UTA hasn't finished ahead of the in-state rival since 2010 when UTA placed second at the Southland Conference meet, one spot ahead of the 'cats.

I'll get more into the Bubas Cup at the end, but it was nice to see a spring sport contribute greatly to all-sports trophy. The NCAA will announce the individuals that qualify for the regional meets, which begin May 25th.

-SOFTBALL

For the first time since 2003, UTA softball was selected to play in a postseason tournament. For a long time, the NCAA Tournament was the only avenue to postseason play. This year, the National Invitational Softball Championships made a rebirth after a two-year run in the early 1990's.

The Mavericks made one of their better runs in a conference tournament in quite a while as they were one of only three teams left playing. They ran into the...Texas State Bobcats (sigh)... and Randi Rupp, one of the better softball pitchers in the nation to end their run. However, they were a borderline team to get in the NISC based on RPI, but the deep run helped solidify that.

The team ran into troubles, giving up a tying home run with one out to go against Abilene Christian before losing in extra innings. Then against Louisiana-Monroe, the hitting was non-existent in a 5-0 loss. Don't know why, but UTA's best pitcher, Sam Clakley, pitched only the first two innings against ACU and did not appear again.

The Mavericks had their best season under the Kristie Fox era, and overall since 2011. They garnered 30+ wins, had a plus .500 record overall and in conference and a return to postseason action. In all, I said in the previous entry that all we want as fans is to see progress. This year was definitely a step in the right direction.

-BASEBALL

What a disaster last week was. UTA came into the weekend conference series against Coastal Carolina, at home mind you, with a 19-5 conference record and a two-game lead on second place South Alabama. Today, they sit a game back of USA and a half game back of Coastal Carolina, thanks to an anemic offensive attack and pitching that couldn't do just enough to keep the Mavericks in it.

I was a bit uneasy sitting in first, wondering how a team that is now 11-15 at home (holy geez!) managed to breeze through the Sun Belt Conference, one of the better DI conferences. In essence, they beat who they were supposed to beat and got a couple of upsets along the way.

During their win streak, there was timely hitting to go with quality defense and pitching. No the offense is struggling, scoring six runs in four games. The pitching is looking suspect. Kadon Simmons is looking less and less like a Friday night starter, as he hasn't pitched a game like you'd expect a staff ace to do in his last four starts. Jakob Hernandez and Trae Patterson are the only ones that seem to be consistent.

It is a terrible time to slump for the baseball team. They need Troy to win at least two from South Alabama and have to sweep Texas State. That second one is no easy task, as the Bobcats have clearly been the better team the last decade and a half. Since the turn of the century, UTA has won only five of the 21 three-game regular-season series' played between the teams. And they are in San Marcos.

The Coastal Carolina series sweep was so disastrous, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have the opportunity to pass the Mavs. They play ULM, the last place team in conference, so it is very likely. At this time last week, they were in first by two games. Now, it is a very real possibility that UTA could be a fifth seed. Just incredible.

-BUBAS CUP

In another frustration that I've been wanting to point out, but doesn't really merit its own full post, UTA has been competitive for the Bubas Cup in almost every year in the SBC. They finished just a couple of points out a few years ago and there's a very real chance that could happen again this year.

First, let me say that it is really tough for UTA to compete, given they offer just 14 sports out of a possible 18 in the Sun Belt. Most teams competing have at least 16 and South Alabama has 17. Broken down by points earned per sport and UTA is clearly in the lead. After a wonderful winter performance, in which the men's basketball team earned 12 points, the women put up 11 and the indoor track teams put up 9 and 11 respectively, UTA was actually in the lead, despite having three of the four sports they don't offer already recorded points. I actually thought UTA could win it this year.

Then the women's golf points came and UTA couldn't put up any and Texas State took the lead. I thought with our normally strong contingent of men's golf and both gender tennis, one would do well enough to catapult UTA back on top.

Well that didn't happen. The men's team was the victim of the only upset in either tennis tournament and the women were not seeded high enough. The men, the defending conference champions, earned four of a possible eight points while the women gathered six of a possible eleven.

Then the golf team showed up, finishing the worst they have in a conference tournament since 1992 when they finished 11th out of 12 teams. My gosh was I disappointed. Not only was there no separation that I was hoping to happen, UTA actually trailed by much more than I thought possible. 

Thankfully the track teams took care of business and softball performed well considering where they have been, though the series loss to an App State team that could not beat a single other SBC team cost 'em points. Now the Athletic Department is dependent on baseball to do something that appears unlikely. It looks like once again, UTA will be on the cusp but come up short. I'd say maybe they'd have a chance with women's golf starting play next year, but with the men's team trending down the last two years, maybe not. A middle of the pack finish would help, but it would have helped for the men's team to do as such and they are a start-up.

Either way, it looks like close but no cigar will be the case again this year, in a way that is normally not expected.

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