The 2020 college baseball season came to an abrupt end for every team in the country last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eleven months later, college baseball is set to return to the Rio Grande Valley.
The UTRGV Vaqueros are slated to open the 2021 season with a three-game series against Lamar beginning Friday at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg as part of the Al Ogletree Classic.
After facing off against each other in practice and scrimmages during the fall and early winter, UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock said he’s excited for the Vaqueros to get on the field with another team.
“We need to get these early games in to learn about our team. It’s hard to evaluate your team against themselves,” Matlock said. “We’ll see a lot of different things when we start playing Lamar this weekend. It’s about getting the games in, letting these guys develop and getting a feel for what they can actually do because we’re a lot deeper than we’ve ever been.”
UTRGV started 11-7 during the shortened 2020 season. Now, the Vaqueros are set to defend their 2019 Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
The Vaqueros open their 56-game schedule with a head-to-head matchup against future WAC opponent Lamar this weekend. UTRGV is also slated to face three Big 12 teams this year in No. 9 Texas, No. 10 TCU and Baylor, one Pac-12 team in Washington, and No. 21 Dallas Baptist.
“You want to be a team that can go beat some of the best teams in the country. If you don’t have that opportunity, you can’t do it,” Matlock said. “We have the opportunity with Baylor, with Texas, with TCU, Washington and DBU. It gives us a chance to see where we fall with the best teams in the country. Teams that can go to Omaha. Teams that can win a national championship. To be the best, you have to play the best, and that’s how you develop.”
Leading up to opening day has been unlike others for UTRGV. While the Vaqueros are following health and safety protocols to prevent COVID-19, this week’s extreme cold weather also threw the team a curveball. The Vaqueros haven’t been able to play any lead up games as they routinely would during a normal season, and the power outages have affected UTRGV players just as they have most areas around the Valley.
“We usually play a bunch of games and get ready but we didn’t get to do that because of the weather, but we’re fine. I’m going to look for our guys to play hard and compete. Those are the things we can control,” Matlock said. “I know Lamar has some great arms so that’s going to be a great challenge for our offense.
“I’ve never been a guy to say, ‘Winning and losing isn’t that big of a deal.’ At this time, I just want to play. If we play hard and control the things we can control, the winning and losing will take care of itself.”
First pitch of the three-game series against Lamar is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg. Game 2 will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, with the series finale set for noon Sunday. Games can be viewed at WACDigitalNetwork.com. Ticket information for UTRGV baseball is available at UTRGVTickets.com, along with a list of game day protocols to prevent COVID-19 at GoUTRGV.com/game-day.