EDINBURG — UTRGV baseball will begin the 2019 season with an early test as the Vaqueros welcome Oklahoma State to Edinburg for a three-game set starting at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15.
Derek Matlock is in his second season at the helm of the Vaqueros and his team’s schedule is a sign of new management.
“If you’re going to try to change a program that hasn’t been very good, play the best teams in the country,” Matlock said. “If you get lucky enough to get a team like (Oklahoma State) that will come down here, you can really see where your ballclub is at. You can really make adjustments because you want to be the best team you can possibly be. And you have to find out against the best arms and against the best hitters.”
Oklahoma State was 31-26-1 in 2017 and 16-8 in the Big 12 conference on route to an at-large berth in the NCAA Deland Regional.
“You can kind of get exposed which is a good thing in a way early in the year cause you know what things to work on. At the same time if you can pop them and beat them it’s a good thing for us and the school so it’s just a good opportunity.”
Last year, UTRGV went 23-31 and 8-16 in conference play.
The Vaqueros-Cowboys series continues at 2 p.m. Saturday and wraps up at 1 p.m. Sunday.
UTRGV continues with a long home stand against Houston Baptist Feb. 19 and a four-game series against Rhode Island March 1-3. Sandwiched between those matchups is the Al Ogletree Classic, which will see North Dakota State and the University of Portland.
The first time the team leaves the RGV is March 5 for the annual dance with the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin.
“We play four or five of the Big 12 schools which is a great league,” Matlock said. “The schedule’s got balance. It’s just exciting to play the best teams. I’m not down here to just be okay, I want to win at a high level. You’re not going to win at a high level if you don’t play the best teams. When it comes to recruiting, if you recruit great players they want to play great teams.”
“It’s a good way to teach kids,” Matlock said. “If you’re a young kid, you play up. If you’re an older kid and you play down it’s going to make you a worse player.”
Matlock knows the key to ending the 32-year drought since UTRGV’s last NCAA Regional trip is being better in WAC play and try to win the end-of-season tournament that determines the conference’s lone automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of great arms and we’re going to see a lot of great arms in the WAC. I think the WAC is getting better,” Matlock said. “The coaches that have been hired in the WAC are playing at a high level. If you look at the teams that the WAC beat on mid-week in the PAC-12 and the things some of them did against SEC teams, it’s a good league.”
UTRGV’s last appearance in the WAC tournament was in 2014 under legacy institution UTPA.