UTPA baseball coach Manny Mantrana should be well rested on Friday nights, thanks to Sam Street.
The right-handed pitcher for the Broncs returns for his senior season to lead UTPA into the WAC. Street will be counted on to be the ace of the UTPA pitching staff a year after being one of the NCAA’s best during his junior season.
He’ll be handed the ball every Friday night, starting at 7 tonight against Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the Broncs season-opener at Edinburg Baseball Stadium
“As a coach, you sleep better on Thursday nights that’s for sure,” Mantrana said. “It’s a nice luxury that we have this year that we haven’t had in year’s past.”
Street comes off a season in which he ranked among the tops of all NCAA pitchers in numerous categories. He was eighth in complete games, 18th in strikeouts and 19th in wins.
Now a senior, Street is ready to best all those marks. With UTPA now competing in the WAC, he said the competition is only going to get tougher.
“That’s huge,” Street said. It really feels like you’re pitching for a bit more this season.Now there’s a national championship on the line if we do all the right things.”
To prepare for this season, Street said a lot of his offseason was mainly rest. He pitched 115.1 innings last season, the second-most in program history.
He said the offseason was first and foremost about recovery. That made the wait for this season a bit longer.
“It was a long offseason,” Street said with a smile.
Once Street started to really prepare for this season, he went about working on parts of his game. The main thing he worked on was improving his change up.
Street said the pitch is crucial to improving his chances against left-handed hitters. Last season, Street held right-handers to a .162 batting average. Against lefties, however, that number spiked to .314.
“His changeup was his worst pitch, so we sat down at the end of last year and talked about working on it,” Mantrana said. “It’s a much better pitch right now. I think with that pitch he’ll be able to handle left-handed hitters better.
“It’s got more movement and he can control it a lot. Now when he’s behind in the count 1-0, 2-1 that can be another pitch he can rely on instead of trying to locate the fastball and his breaking ball.”
Sophomore catcher Jacob Huckabay will be catching Street tonight against the Islanders. He’s definitely seen improvements in Street’s pitches and can tell there’s a difference between Street’s changeup from last year to the pitch right now.
“He’s got a three-pitch arsenal and he’s been able to execute throughout the offseason,” Huckabay said. “It’ll be good to see him on the mound and see what he does, see that work pay off for him.”
It’ll be a bit easier for Street to be relied on this season since he’s been through it before. He was the guy UTPA counted on last season. That’s no different from his role this season.
This will be Street’s last season he’ll pitch wearing a Broncs uniform and he said that means this should be a special season and he’ll treat it as such.
“It’s the same mentality of last year of going out there and throwing your game,” he said. “I’m doing whatever I can to help the team.
There are a lot of goals. But the main thing is to just enjoy it. It might be the last time I play baseball so I’m just trying to enjoy the ride and take it all in. I’ll keep these memories forever.”
UTPA SEASON OUTLOOK
Coach: Manny Mantrana, sixth season
Last season’s record: 28-30, 17-10 in Great West Conference
Offense: Mantrana doesn’t expect the Broncs to be slugging it out with many teams. UTPA doesn’t figure to have a high-powered offense but Mantrana wants the Broncs to use their speed and athleticism to take extra bases, steal and produce runs. They do have one big bat returning in infielder Albert Morales, however. Morales hit .284 with eight home runs and 33 RBI. Those home run and RBI numbers led the team and Morales was easily the best power-hitter for the Broncs last season. He returns along with outfielder Alex Howe, who batted .314 with a .431 on-base percentage. Along with those two returning starters, outfielder Shane Ammon and infielder Bryan Ramirez give the Broncs some offense as well. Ammon hit .353 in 39 starts last season and Ramirez hit .345 in 32 starts. With more playing time, expect to see those two help carry the lineup past Morales and Howe.
Pitching: It’s a good thing Sam Street is back. UTPA’s ace from a season ago had one of the best seasons for a pitcher in Broncs history, throwing 115.1 innings, striking out 104 batters and going 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA. With an improved changeup, expect Street to try to top those numbers in his senior season. The issue will be behind him. UTPA has lost the two pitchers behind Street from last season. Matthew Harrell and Aaron Moore had great seasons in the bullpen last season and might be counted on for some starts. Harrell had a 2.04 ERA in 17 appearances and Moore had a 2.84 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings pitched.
Complete Coaches Poll
(Points awarded on a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis as coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams)
Rank Team (First Place Votes) Points
1 Bakersfield (8) 80
2 New Mexico State (1) 70
3 Sacramento State (1) 68
4 Utah Valley 50
5 Grand Canyon 45
6 UTPA 37
7 Seattle U 35
8 Northern Colorado 34
9 North Dakota 22
10 Chicago State 9