EDINBURG — UTRGV baseball coach Derek Matlock said the Vaqueros looked like they were swinging underwater on Friday.
He wasn’t exactly sure why UTRGV had so much trouble against CSU Bakersfield starter Alec Daily, but the output wasn’t what Matlock expected. Making only his second start of the year after sitting out the past two seasons following Tommy John surgery, Daily held the Vaqueros without a hit for seven innings — the longest outing of his college career.
“For him to pitch that good of a game was kind of crazy, because his stuff was pretty medium and he lost command and was always throwing balls around,” Matlock said. “But the thing is, he got back and made pitches when he needed to make pitches.”
UTRGV (13-10, 0-1 WAC) finally got to Daily and the Bakersfield bullpen in the eighth inning, rallying for five runs. But the late burst was not enough to erase a seven-run deficit, as Bakersfield (10-13, 1-0 WAC) picked up an 8-5 victory in the WAC opener for both teams at UTRGV Baseball Stadium.
Daily entered with just 9 2/3 innings pitched on the season before throwing seven-plus innings with a career-high eight strikeouts on Friday. All of UTRGV’s four runs (three earned) and the lone hit against Daily came with no outs in the eighth.
“We just had a tough time seeing him,” UTRGV third baseman Tyler Torres said. “We should’ve probably swung at a little bit more pitches on the outside part of the plate, but that’s about it.”
Matlock said Daily’s stuff was “sporadic.” The senior threw 62 of his 105 pitches for strikes, walked four UTRGV batters and hit three more.
Staked to a 7-0 lead entering the eighth inning, Daily issued a walk to Cris Castillo and hit Coleman Grubbs with a pitch. Elijah Alexander loaded the bases when he hit a grounder to second base and the throw by Bakersfield’s Austyn Tengan pulled shortstop Evan Berkley off the bag.
Daily’s first pitch to UTRGV’s Austin Siener was outside, and Siener poked it the other way down the first-base line for a triple that broke up the no-hitter and pulled UTRGV within 7-3.
“I knew we were down 7-0 with the bases loaded. I didn’t care if I got a hit there. We just needed to get a run in,” Siener said. “I got a pitch away, first pitch. They’ve been calling it a strike all night, and I went with it, and it worked out well for us.”
Daily was then pulled for Elijah Parks, and Parks’ second pitch to Tyler Torres was blasted over the left-field wall to draw UTRGV within 7-5.
“Honestly, when the dugout gets behind us, every batter in the box feels more confident than ever,” Torres said. “When the dugout gets going, the batters get going. That’s really what works.”
Siener and Matlock said Castillo, a senior, was one of the players leading the charge in the dugout.
“We had a little bit of senior leadership, the first time I’ve seen all year from some guys really getting the dugout going and fighting back and getting that five spot and getting back in the game,” Matlock said. “(Castillo) has some fight in him. He has some pride. … If we’re going to change this program, it has to hurt. And I think it hurt some guys. I heard them in there, and it hurt.”
UTRGV went down 3-0 in the first inning as Bakersfield got to starter Carter Johnson for three hits and a pair of walks.
Johnson allowed three earned runs before recording the game’s second out, matching the highest earned run total he’s given up in an outing during his two seasons with UTRGV. But he settled down from there, giving up just two hits and two walks in five scoreless innings after the slow start.
“Everything he was throwing kept running back to the middle of the plate,” Matlock said of Johnson’s difficult first inning. “He had a hard time getting a feel for it and getting in the strike zone.”
UTRGV’s Juan Carreon pitched a clean seventh inning but loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, giving up a leadoff double and back-to-back walks. UTRGV turned to reliever Jerred Quartier, and on his second pitch Sergio Robles hit a grand slam over the left-field wall, giving Bakersfield a 7-0 cushion.
Bakersfield added an insurance run in the ninth when Austyn Tengan reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a bunt and then scored on a two-out grounder down the third-base line that went for a single after bouncing off Torres’ glove.
UTRGV looks to rebound in game two of the three-game series at 6 tonight.
“Just keep doing us,” Siener said. “It’s bound to work out. It’s worked for us so far. Worked for us every single day. So we’ll stick to our game plan and hopefully come out and get two.”