Things looked bleak for the baseball team (23-20, 13-8) heading into the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday. Staring down a 7-4 deficit with just three outs remaining, the Mavericks’ offense saved the day once again.
After junior outfielder Wilson Galvan brought in two runs with an RBI single to cut the deficit to one, freshman infielder Ryan Black hit a walk-off, two-run home run to dead center field, sealing an 8-7 victory over UT-Rio Grande Valley and sending the crowd at Clay Gould Ballpark into a frenzy. As Black rounded third and headed for home, his teammates crowded the plate to celebrate him and the win.
“I'm just trying to put the ball in play, honestly,” said Black, who leads the team with a .371 batting average and 49 RBIs. “He came into my zone with another fastball and I just hit it out to dead center.” This was his first career home run to dead center, he said.
Head coach Clay Van Hook said postgame what makes Black special is coaches don’t have to do much with him. They just put him in the three-spot of the lineup and he’ll deliver.
“Let him hit in your three hole and he's gonna do what Ryan Black does, which is perform in the big moments,” Van Hook said.
The Mavericks found themselves in an early deficit when the Vaqueros put up a five spot in the top of the third inning, sending junior pitcher Caden Noah to the bench after two and a third innings. With the starting pitcher out, UTA turned to senior pitcher Zach Norris. Norris shut down the UTRGV offense, pitching three and two thirds innings and surrendering no runs.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Mavericks cut the deficit to two when freshman infielder Ben Lumsden sent his team-leading 10th home run of the season over the right-field wall. Van Hook said the team has battled offensively all year and have to continue to sustain rallies because when they do, they know they’re not out of any game.
After the Vaqueros added two more runs in the top of the seventh, Black got one back in the bottom of the inning with a single to right center field. The score held at 7-4 before UTA’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“Our coaching staff does a good job of preparing these guys on proper approaches on what they need to do to sustain rallies and have success,” Van Hook said. “That's one thing we've done all year, we've been able to sustain rallies offensively and keep ourselves in games.”
With the win, UTA now sits in third place in the Western Athletic Conference standings despite being picked to finish ninth in the conference’s preseason poll. Van Hook said he told his guys pregame this was their biggest game of the year.
“I think we're doing a good job,” he said. “The players are buying in, they're doing a good job. We're playing a good brand of baseball. I think games like today show that the culture is being set.”
The Mavericks will host fourth-place California Baptist University next weekend before heading on the road to face first-place Sam Houston State University, who they trail by just three and half games.
Van Hook said moving forward, the team will focus on two things: getting to Mesa, Arizona – where the conference tournament is held with the top eight teams – and securing a top-four seed in that tournament to secure a first-round bye.
“We just come in here every day and we work hard at what we do,” Black said. “So the hard work is finally paying off.”
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