EDINBURG — The UTRGV baseball program last extended its season by qualifying for a conference tournament in 2014, when it was the University of Texas Pan-American.
Five years later, the Vaqueros have snapped that skid.
The Western Athletic Conference-leading Vaqueros (28-14, 14-4) became the first team in the conference to punch their ticket to the WAC Tournament, May 22-26, with a 7-6 walk off win over Seattle University on Sunday. The winner of the WAC tourney earns an automatic bid to the NCAA regional tournament.
Second-year coach Derek Matlock said it’s big to have one goal checked off this season’s list with nine games remaining in conference play.
“We talked about it last year: as UTRGV, we’ve never even been to the tournament. It hadn’t been that long, but our goal of the staff when I got here was we got to get in the tournament. First things first: we got to get in the tournament to give us a chance to win a tournament to get in a regional,” Matlock said. “For us to be in with nine games, we were just sweating it out about to go into this big road swing and we’d need to win at the end and be stressed out about getting in. It is a good feeling to know we’re in. It’s not the No. 1 goal; our goal is to try to win a championship. But there’s a little bit of weight off our shoulders. Now it’s just go play baseball.”
The 2014 WAC tourney-qualifying UTPA Broncs team finished 27-30 overall and 17-10 in conference, before losing 9-2 to Utah Valley and 7-4 against New Mexico State in the postseason.
This year, the Vaqueros are in position to fight for a top seed.
UTRGV currently sits in first place of the WAC standings at 14-4, one game up on Sacramento State and New Mexico State at 13-5.
Matlock said he’s received texts from alumni with screenshots of the WAC standings with UTRGV at the top. While he admits it’s a good feeling, he hopes the Vaqueros can now take another step forward.
“When your culture is about just going out and playing hard everyday, buying into the process, guys are just trying to win the next game. I’ve been screenshot the WAC standings probably 75 times from alumni. It is what it is. We got nine games left, six games on the road and it’s pretty acknowledgeable of what we have ahead of us. It’s definitely a good feeling to get into that tournament already. Now we can kind of focus on taking that next step,” Matlock said.
The Vaqueros will take a break from conference play with a mid-week matchup against another Big 12 opponent for the eighth and ninth time this season.
UTRGV is set to face No. 11 Texas Tech at 6:30 tonight at Dan Law Field, with another game against the Red Raiders scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Vaqueros will then travel to Las Cruces for their three-game WAC series against New Mexico State beginning at 7 p.m. Friday.