Closner IV leads UTRGV past Cal Baptist in series finale

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Ryan Jackson (20), right, shares a moment with teammate Zach Martinez (5) at the end of game where jackson pitches the last inning against California Baptist Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The UTRGV Vaqueros won their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference series by knocking off California Baptist 7-2 in Game 3 on Saturday at UTRGV Baseball Stadium.

Mercedes alum Oliver Closner IV had a career day at the plate as the sophomore catcher drove in a personal best three runs, on 3 for 4 hitting. He said the Vaqueros were motivated to fight back after dropping the opener 6-3 on Thursday.

“I felt like the game on Thursday picked us up, so we came out on Friday and did what we usually do and we continued it today,” Closner IV said. “Lately, I’ve been feeling really relaxed, not thinking too much. Just really see ball, hit ball, sticking to the approach. It’s just staying calm at the plate.”

Closner IV sparked a four-run second inning for the Vaqueros after his two-run double allowed Elijah Alexander and Tyler Torres to cross the plate. His defensive effort matched his performance at the plate as he caught a runner attempting to steal second base by nearly 10 feet in the top of the first inning. The Cal Baptist Lancers didn’t test his arm again for the rest of the game.

“I take a lot of pride in my game because when I don’t have success at the plate, I take a lot of pride on defense, trying to help out our guys and doing whatever I can to make outs at the plate or at the bases,” he said.

Conrado Diaz broke the scoring seal on the game by driving in Christian Sepulveda during the bottom of the first and added another RBI during the second. Diaz has been filling in at first base since an injury shook the infield up, but his bat has been one of the hottest on the team.

Diaz delivered a grand slam on the road against Grand Canyon on April 14 to force the game into extra innings, setting UTRGV up for an eventual 9-7 win. The San Diego, California, native is up to 10 RBIs in his past four games after going 3 for 4 in the series finale.

“I’m just looking for my pitch and trying to put my best swing on it to help my team score runs,” Diaz said while having cold water poured on his head by Sepulveda.

UTRGV pitcher Jerred Quartier was struck in the leg by a ball hit hard right back in his direction, adding to a tough start. Quartier was pulled after allowing two runs during the second inning.

The combination of Kevin Palm, Max Balderrama Jr., Ben Butler and closer Ryan Jackson teamed up to finish the game, yielding just two hits and one run during the final seven innings of relief. Palm pitched the third through the sixth and was awarded the victory to improve his record to 3-1 this season.

Saturday’s win over Cal Baptist (24-15, 9-6) sends UTRGV to 25-13 overall, 11-4 in the WAC and into a tie for second place with New Mexico State.

“This one gives us confidence,” Diaz said. “We have a good team, we have a good pitching staff, we have a good offense. We have everything we need to go far.

After a road non-conference matchup with Incarnate Word at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Vaqueros will be back at home beginning at 7 p.m. Friday as UTRGV welcomes Seattle University for a three-game series.

bramos@themonitor.com