ABCs leading UTRGV to victory

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley baseball head coach Derek Matlock at practice at UTRGV on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The culture has been a changin’ inside the UTRGV baseball clubhouse.

When coach Derek Matlock took over the program two years ago, the initial goal was to get the team into the Western Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since 2014 — and win it. That could lead to his main objective: a berth into the NCAA regionals.

UTRGV (30-17, 15-6) has already accomplished Phase 1 as the first-place Vaqueros sit in a three-way tie atop the WAC standings with New Mexico State and Sacramento State. Matlock has his team believing they can accomplish Phase 2 with six conference games and the WAC tourney left to play.

“It’s the culture of this place now. We got players in here that want to win. We got a little bit of winning in our blood right now, and that’s what we haven’t had for maybe 20 years,” he said.

Matlock said the culture change is simple — it’s about the ABCs, an acronym he believes in mightily.

“Our expectation and culture is very simple: it’s ABC,” the second-year coach said. “It’s about (‘A’) accountability — the guys that get it done are going to play and you need to be accountable for your performance. ‘B’ — we’re blue-collar. We’ve been told by every team we’ve played you guys are tough, play hard, and that’s our blue-collar. And ‘C’— it’s committed. You got guys that are here doing work and we’re off, and they won’t be off, and that’s called being committed.”

Fourth- and fifth-year guys like second baseman Anthony Gomez and closer Ryan Jackson went through some rough years before getting the team to where it is now.

“My freshman year and sophomore year, we didn’t win very much,” Jackson, a McAllen Rowe alum, said. “We’d go out there to practice every day, we’d go to the games and it’d be like, ‘I hope we win.’ Now, we go to the field and we expect to win. We already know we’re going to win if we play our game the way we should.”

Gomez, who has eight RBIs in the past five games, said the fun the team is having, combined with the winning, makes it feel like youth baseball again.

“It feels like it’s 12-under baseball, like travel baseball. We’re just out there having fun,” he said. “It feels good and we’re not done yet, so I’m happy for what’s in store for us and we’ve put in the work.”

UTRGV is back home off a five-game road swing where they went 2-3 against two of the top offensive teams in the nation in No. 10 Texas Tech and New Mexico State.

The Vaqueros put up a fight as they had more than 15 hits in three consecutive games, including a 21-run explosion against the Aggies on Saturday.

Harker Heights native and UTRGV third baseman Tyler Torres earned WAC Hitter of the Week honors, for his play from April 23 through April 28, after going 8 for 14 while driving in seven runs, scoring five times and blasting his first home run of the season.

He stayed hot against New Mexico State as he had a five-RBI game in UTRGV’s 21-11 win in eight innings. Torres, a third-year veteran, attributes this season’s success to the team’s resilience. And the fun.

“I’ve had fun the past couple years, but this year is definitely the most fun I’ve had in a very long time playing baseball, and it’s always fun when you’re winning,” he said. “I attribute the resiliency from the team and our coaches. We’re never out of a game, no matter the score. I feel like we can come back from any deficit and we can keep a lead whenever we have it.”

UTRGV will look to hold onto its first-place standing as the Vaqueros travel to take on CSU Bakersfield for a three-game WAC series beginning 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. for Sunday’s finale.