UTRGV looks to build off first WAC sweep in three years

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Anthony Gomez (13) attempts to stop a hit in the infield by Oklahoma State in a Western Athletic Conference game at UTRGV Baseball Stadium on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The UTRGV baseball team hadn’t swept a Western Athletic Conference opponent since the 2016 season.

This year’s group changed that as the Vaqueros were able to take three from Northern Colorado in a home-series with wins of 3-2, 11-1 and 10-0, respectively, last weekend. Second baseman Anthony Gomez was part of the 2016 team as a freshman, and now as a senior feels that sort of performance should be expected out of the Vaqueros every time they take the field.

“Even though many people, teams or coaches don’t expect it from us, we expect it on a daily basis. We just come out and give it our all,” Gomez said. “The sweep is the product, but we worry about the process first in terms of preparation. I take full pride in it and so do the rest of the guys.”

In the process of picking up the sweep, UTRGV (18-10, 4-2) was at its most dominant Saturday during a doubleheader. After winning Game 1 on Friday 3-2 in 10 innings, thanks to a walk-off base hit by Christian Sepulveda, the Vaqueros outscored the Bears of UNC by a combined 21-1 during Games 2 and 3.

One of the many bright spots for UTRGV came in the form of new leadoff hitter Jacob Hirsh. After losing starting shortstop and leadoff Andy Atwood to a broken finger against Texas Christian on March 26, Hirsh, a redshirt sophomore and right fielder, has stepped into the one spot from the nine-hole. His cannon for a right arm has been on display for the Vaqueros all year, but coach Derek Matlock said he’s improved at the plate with the help of hitting coach Russell Raley, and it showed against UNC as he drove in four RBIs.

“He’s such a great defender. His defensive ability is one of the best in the country. The start wasn’t good for him offensively, but he’s done a good job,” Matlock said. “He can cause some problems, so I couldn’t be more pleased with him jumping in that big role, coming from the nine-hole to the one-hole and performing like he did this weekend. He really generated some runs and generated some struggles for the pitchers.”

Hirsh’s two-run double during the eighth inning of Game 2 against UNC gave UTRGV an 11-1 lead for the 10-run rule. He tied a career high at the plate going 3 for 5 with three doubles and three RBIs.

“This team lives off of three things — being accountable, being blue-collar and being committed,” Hirsh said. “With Andy going out, that’s a huge blow to the team. That guy’s one of the best on the team and he’s a huge competitor, so we have to have that next man up mentality. I have to step in to that role. It’s big shoes to fill so I’m going to try my best to pick up where he left off.”

Another highlight from the weekend was the duo of Jerred Quartier and Conner Dotson, Saturday’s winning pitchers, who were dealing as they both pitched seven innings and struck out a combined 15 batters. In the 10-0 victory, Dotson threw a one-hitter and walked just one runner, putting himself in the win column for the first time this season.

“They threw the crap out of the baseball and threw the ball in the strike zone a lot and that gives you a chance to have success, and that’s exactly what they didn’t do the week before on the road (against Sacramento State), which was disappointing,” Matlock said about his No. 2 and 3 pitchers. “If those guys will throw the ball in the strike zone, they have a chance to have a really good year and we’re excited about the work we’re doing and getting them to repeat that this weekend. If we can pitch like we did last weekend, we’ll have a good opportunity.”

The Vaqueros will look to build off the sweep as they welcome Chicago State (7-19, 2-4) for a three-game series beginning 7 p.m. Friday at UTRGV Baseball Stadium.

“We just focus on the small details in preparing and making sure you got that switch that’s always on, not just turning it on when the game happens,” Gomez said. “It’s also a mental state that I think we’re starting to get to as a team and as a unit to separate from being an average team to being a really good team.”