EDINBURG — Considering how things are going, the UTPA baseball team will not be heading into any game or any series over-confident.
Not even against an NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) team.
The Broncs will host Arlington Baptist College this weekend, first at 7 p.m., then Saturday for a doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. It’s their lone series against a non-Division I team.
“We can’t take anyone lightly, especially with the way we’ve played,” coach Manny Mantrana said. “These guys have shown signs of (playing) pretty good, but we haven’t been able to get over that hump.”
UTPA (4-11) hasn’t had a problem getting over that hump on Friday’s. It’s won all four of its games on those nights, generally against the No. 1 pitcher of the opposition. Saturday and Sunday have been different stories.
No one seems to know why it’s happening like this.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mantrana said. “Friday night we’re facing the opposition’s best pitcher. We’ve won every Friday night.”
It’s nothing the players are thinking about, though. Despite the struggles, the confidence remains.
“It’s really nothing to worry about,” second baseman Bryan Ramirez said. “We have all the talent in the world here.”
Ramirez, a PSJA High alum, wasn’t playing early in the season, but has since started seven games. He’s been hitting at the top of the order — and well.
With a .333 average and a .412 on-base percentage, the freshman has made a name for himself rather quickly.
It didn’t start out that way, though. At first there was a little apprehension, the speed of the game was different, everyone was really good. It was a lot to take in.
After a few games, that changed.
“I just took advantage of it, one day it clicked,” Ramirez said. “It’s just normal baseball. It’s fun.”
In turn, his coach started to give him more playing time.
“He’s given us competitive at-bats,” Mantrana said. “That’s been one of the problems, we’re not hitting right now.”
That came up last weekend, when after (naturally) winning Friday against Lamar, the Broncs were shutout Saturday and Sunday.
That didn’t help the starting rotation, which will feature Sam Street tonight and Dylan Badura and Dusten Knight in the doubleheader.
It’ll come against a team Mantrana used to be like. When he was coaching at Saint Thomas, an NAIA school in Florida, he remembered being the little guy trying to get games against Division I schools.
Since UTPA isn’t in a real conference and has no chance of making the NCAA tournament, its RPI and the RPI of the Great West Conference is irrelevant. Which is why a game like this doesn’t hurt anything, big picture wise.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” he said of Arlington Baptist’s situation. “It’s baseball, anything can happen.”
The Broncs won’t play this kind of game next year when they are in the Western Athletic Conference. But that’s then. Now, they just want to start playing good baseball again.
“The timely hitting,” Mantrana said. “That’s what you want. Not how many you (get), but when you get them.”
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA Athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.