EDINBURG — The UTRGV baseball team entered Sunday’s Western Athletic Conference game against Utah Valley without a series win in WAC play this season.
Sophomore first baseman Angel De La Cruz changed that with a swing of a bat as his 10th-inning grand slam lifted the Vaqueros over the UVU Wolverines 6-2 in extra innings on Sunday at UTRGV Baseball Stadium to win the series 3-1.
With each team beginning the 10th with a runner on second due to the NCAA adopting the MLB’s extra inning rule, the Wolverines proceeded to load the bases with one out.
UTRGV (16-17, 8-8) escaped trouble after a heads up play by second baseman Andy Atwood on a slow roller resulted in a fielder’s choice at home for the second out. Senior pitcher Chase Bridges ended the inning with a strikeout of Pacen Hayes, setting the Vaqueros up with an opportunity to win during the bottom of the 10th.
After Utah Valley loaded the bases with back-to-back walks of Freddy Rojas Jr. and Atwood, De La Cruz stepped to the plate and hit his third home run of the year for a walk-off grand slam.
“I feel like as a player, you just have to slow everything down. …. I was just trying to hit a deep fly ball and make contact so I could give my team the best chance of winning,” he said. “The feeling is just great relief. … The past few weeks, we’ve lost a lot of one-run games; we’ve lost some after the seventh or eighth inning or after that. It’s been tough, so finally getting this win and getting our first conference series win, it means a lot.”
Sophomore pitcher JC Ariza started for UTRGV and delivered 5.1 innings, while striking out five and allowing two runs. With the game knotted at 2-2 during the top of the fifth, the Vaqueros turned to their bullpen.
Ricky Arevalo, Deryk Serbantez and Bridges combined to shut out the Wolverines over the final 4.1 innings, with Bridges (4-1) receiving the win for his work during the 10th.
“We had some guys fight in there and really grind it out. We had a pitching staff out there just putting up zeroes,” UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock said. “What a great job by Serbantez and Bridges, and I thought Ariza had a great start, too. We get in that situation — the major league tiebreak — it’s stressful as heck. We don’t get in it much, then Angel came through with a big pop to give us the win.”
The Vaqueros are now 8-8 in WAC play and fifth in the latest conference standings.
“There’s bits and pieces of our team when they play, it’s an electric team. We’ve just made so many mistakes at times that’ve cost us games,” Matlock said. “In a long season, I’d rather have them now and then tighten them up for later because later means more than now. We’re finally back to .500 in conference and that’s a good feeling. Now let’s get back on the positive side of it.”
Next for the Vaqueros is a nonconference game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as part of the South Texas Showdown scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Chapman Field in Corpus Christi.
UTRGV will resume WAC play this weekend with a four-game series against Seattle at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg. Game 1 is slated for 6 p.m. Friday. Games 2 and 3 will be played as a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the series finale set for noon Sunday.