Home treated UTRGV better than its 0-4 trip to Abilene Christian University opening week. The Vaqueros won 3 out of 4 games during this past weekend’s tournament on their way to clinching first place.
Following each win, players climbed the stairs and shook the former coach of UTPA baseball, Al Ogletree’s hand. The man who the tournament is named after still hangs around the ballpark and Head Coach Manny Mantrana stresses it’s a big part of making the weekend special.
“It’s not often you get to be around meet a living legend and that’s what Coach Al is,” the head coach said. “He is baseball in the Valley. Even though he was an excellent coach, he’s an even better human being.”
The team wrapped up the Al Ogletree Classic with a win over in-state opponents, the Prairie View A&M Panthers. Vaquero offense struck early and often in the 11-9 win.
The offense unloaded on the Panthers. The Vaqueros tallied runs in five of the eight innings they batted in.
Starting pitcher, freshman Pablo Ortiz, had a strong outing for the Vaqueros. He surrendered a home run in the second inning but did not allow much else in his 5 innings pitched, earning his first collegiate win.
Prairie continued to chip away on relief pitchers but never posed much of a threat to UTRGV’s lead.
Joseph Collazo hit a solo home run and finished the Al Ogletree Classic with six hits, four RBI and a home run.
Mantrana said the team has high hopes for the junior transfer infielder this season.
“Joseph can swing the bat, his best tool is that he’s an offensive player,” Mantrana said. “I think he’s going to be one of the guys that we can count on to be able to produce on offense for us.”
Collazo, the junior from San Antonio, put the team above his individual performance.
“I’m just glad that our team got back on track,” the right hander said. “Glad to come out the weekend with some wins. I’m just trying to do my best and not let my teammates down.”
Regarding his fifth inning home run, he was just glad he hit enough of the ball to leave the park.
“Honestly, it was a little wind-aided. I knew I got a good piece of it,” said Collazo, the first-year Vaquero. “I was hoping he didn’t catch it, but it got out so I’m happy about that.”
Game three, UTRGV suffered their first home defeat of the 2016 campaign. It came in a 6-2 loss to the Houston Baptist Huskies.
On the mound was sophomore pitcher and McAllen native Ryan Jackson. Houston Baptist hitting started early, getting three straight hits in the first inning to grab the lead. The loss was Jackson’s second in as many outings this season.
The Huskies half of fourth inning, that continued because of two-out errors, proved to be painful as HBU tacked on three more runs. It was 4-0 at that point.
A major part of the loss was the success of Houston Baptist’s starting pitcher, Addison Russ. The 6-1 junior from Amarillo did not allow a hit until the eighth inning when UTRGV’s Edgar Cordon broke up the no-hitter.
The Vaqueros continued to hit in that inning but were only able to muster two runs, which was not enough to catch Houston Baptist. The gap was only closed to 6-2, which stood as Saturday’s final.
In their second game of the tournament, UTRGV rallied for two runs down in the ninth inning to beat Prairie View A&M.
In the back and forth affair, senior Scott Mercer was the walk-off hero. He had a career-high four RBI in the victory, hitting 2-4. Mercer’s other two RBI came from a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly ball.
Mercer’s single with the bases loaded into centerfield that went under the glove of the Prairie View outfield drove in the tying and winning run.
Senior Parker Gallegos earned the win. He pitched 1.2 innings of scoreless relief that was enough to hold Prairie View off as the Vaqueros offense did the rest.
The Vaqueros second game was heavily dependent on offense, but game one was a complete defensive showcase.
In their first game of the annual Al Ogletree Classic, UTRGV welcomed Pac-12 opponents Washington State. The Vaqueros won the opener 3-1.
The second inning was full of offense for the Vaqueros. After scoring their first on a close play at first base, Collazo deliver with a based loaded blooper behind first base.
Starting pitcher Johnny Gonzalez only allowed one, struck out eight and threw 126 pitches. He recorded an out in the ninth inning but was relieved for the final two outs. Junior Andrew Padron earned the save Thursday night.
Gonzalez, a sophomore from Corpus Christi, said while the start was good it’s not enough to count on to earn a starting spot full-time.
“It was good but we have 14 other guys that are competing for that same spot, so I’m just out here trying to do my best,” Gonzalez said. “That’s me just trusting my pitching coach and trusting what he calls and executing my pitches. Three runs in a ball game is not [often] going to win, but tonight it did.”
The sophomore pitched out of the bullpen all of last season but Mantrana said a disappointing fall from his pitching staff forced his hand to try out different starters.
“The fall we had some issues,” Mantrana said. “When talking it over with the coaching staff, I said ‘hey, we might have to bring up Johnny and have him start.’ We gave him the opportunity and he’s gotten the ball and he’s run with it. Hopefully he stays healthy, I know he’s going to work.”
UTRGV will next travel to Fort Worth to face No. 13 Texas Christian University for a game. Then they’ll go on for three more games at Lamar University in Beaumont before returning home.
The Vaqueros will next be home March 11 to host Arlington Baptist University.