Towards the end of April, there was a feeling that the UT Arlington baseball team was on the verge of accomplishing something great.They had just come off a three-game sweep of the ranked Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns in a battle for first place, as well as a win over a ranked Texas A&M club. They followed that with a road sweep at Arkansas State. But it was all downhill after that.
The Mavericks lost seven of their last eight games, including their only game against Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, as extensive rain delays forced the tournament to go to single-elimination. The most frustrating aspect for me was how the team just wilted. Yes you could make the claim that Coastal Carolina, the defending national champions, and TCU are solid teams, but Texas State? Arkansas State (especially when it mattered the most)?
I don't want to harp on it too much, but the baseball program seems mired in mediocrity. There was hope after 2012's run to the NCAA tournament and facility upgrades that saw the addition of an indoor practice facility and dedicated locker rooms in a state-of-the-art clubhouse that UTA baseball would hit the next level. Instead, there have been repeated instances of inexplicable loses that have ruined any chances of an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
It was a tale of two seasons. One happened in February and May, one in March and April. The first one saw the Mavs limp out of the gate and limp to the finish line, the second saw them beat pretty much whoever they wanted. In the first group, UTA went 6-15. In the second, the Mavericks were 24-10.
Why the stark contrast? I don't know. I don't see much difference between Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Yet the Chanticleers made UTA look out of its league while UTA dispatched the Cajuns with little difficulty. It was literally like a switch. One weekend series, the Mavericks were a force to be reckoned with, a legitimate contender for a conference title and a berth into the NCAA's. The next week (and by proxy, the remainder of the season), they looked like they belonged at the bottom of the conference.
I'm not sure what to make of this team coming into next year. Quintin Rohrbaugh will be missed, as he will graduate. His consistency was great on a team that was consistently inconsistent.
Kadon Simmons will be missed, but maybe not as initially thought. His
ERA ballooned over his last several starts, even in wins. His play had
deteriorated so much that the Friday night starter all year did not
pitch in the conference tournament.
Brady Cox could be a miss, but he went from .365 hitter with 41 RBI his junior year to .229 with 16 RBI this year. In fact, Coach Darin Thomas' stubbornness to leave him near the top of the lineup may have cost the team runs. Hard to justify a .229 hitter in the second spot.
Colton Turner was similar to Brady Cox. He was a
second-team all-SBC pick last year, but played in only 30 games,
starting 19 and hit .151.
Austin Gardner certainly will be missed coming out of the bullpen. He was, in my opinion, UTA's best reliever. His 2.42 ERA led all UTA pitchers with any sizable amount of innings pitched.
That's it for the senior class, so it could be a medium hit at worst. The next big question mark comes in the form of the draft. In baseball, junior's are eligible to be drafted. I'm not sure who is on the scout's radar and haven't had the opportunity to ask anyone in the know. Both newcomers to the UTA roster this year, Trae Patterson and Jakob Hernandez pitched well this year. They played a large part of the Mavericks conference success. I don't know if their "stuff" is enough to get drafted. That will be a big area to watch during the MLB draft. There are several impact players who could get attention, like Omar Salinas and Daniel James. In fact, UTA had 15 juniors on the roster, so there definitely could be an impact.
In the end though, I was severely disappointed by the end, and not just the one and done at the conference tournament. There are two conceivable ways the team could go from here. If recent history is any indication, this will be a high-water mark for a few years. I hope I'm wrong.