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The UTRGV baseball team, the Southwest Division No. 3 seed, opened the Western Athletic Conference Tournament with a 2-1 win in a pitcher’s duel over Sacramento State, the West Division No. 2 seed, on Wednesday at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona.
The Vaqueros (33-23) advance to the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Thursday against New Mexico State, the West’s No. 4 seed. All WAC Tournament games can be streamed online through ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+.
UTRGV ace Kevin Stevens (9-2) delivered an eight-inning gem with 12 strikeouts while allowing six hits and two walks. Stevens moved into sixth-place in program history with 228 career strikeouts.
His counterpart, Sacramento State’s Eli Saul, pitched 7.2 innings before giving up the go-ahead run during the top of the eighth inning after a Brandon Pimentel single and Brett Cain RBI double.
“Shoot, that’s who (Stevens) is. He’s a veteran. Their guy did just as a good job is what was rough for him — what a great outing for him, but our guy was a little bit better,” UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock said to ESPN+ during a postgame interview. “That’s all you got to say, our guy was a little bit better, but what a good team, what a good arm they have.”
The Hornets (30-25) started off with two hits to score their lone run during the bottom of the first after a Martin Vincelli-Simard double drove in Jorge Bojorquez.
The Vaqueros wasted no time in responding as Jacob Hirsh drew a seven-pitch walk with two outs, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Edinburg Vela alum Isaac Lopez.
The Hornets threatened during the bottom of the eighth with bases loaded and one out before a ground ball to shortstop was scooped and flipped out of Lopez’s glove to second baseman Diego Ramirez and thrown over to first in time for an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
“They’ve always worked hard at it, they love it,” Matlock said about the Vaqueros’ defense. “Coach Raley is a great infield coach and he works hard with them. Defense is everything — pitching and defense wins championships.”
Ricky Gerik Jr. made his program record 33rd appearance and pitched a scoreless ninth for his seventh save of the season, which is tied for fourth-most in program history with Ryan Jackson (2018), Andrew Padron (2015), and Scott Fowler (2001).
The Vaqueros now await the winner between Sam Houston and New Mexico State in the double-elimination tournament. UTRGV went 3-3 against Sam Houston and 2-1 against New Mexico State this year.