Matlock named WAC Coach of the Year

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 — After a historic run through the season, resulting in a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship, the UTRGV baseball team added a few postseason honors to its name Tuesday.

But the Vaqueros are not done yet.

The UTRGV baseball team is in Mesa, Arizona, preparing to open the WAC Tournament as the No. 2 seed at 5 p.m. Thursday at Hohokam Stadium, the spring training home of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics. The winner earns a berth to the NCAA regional tournament.

MATLOCK NAMED WAC COACH OF THE YEAR

From minor details like decorating the bullpens with UTRGV logos and trees to the cultural change UTRGV coach Derek Matlock sought to implement, the Vaqueros’ transformation has been evident.

The UTRGV baseball team won its first Div. I championship since 1955, finishing a program-best 19-8 in WAC play and 34-19 overall, the best mark in nearly 30 years.

Matlock was named the 2019 WAC Coach of the Year, as voted by coaches in the conference, in his second season at the helm.

“It’s a very big honor for me because I have a lot of respect for these coaches in the conference,” Matlock said. “It really goes to my coaches, to be honest. Coach (Russell) Raley recruiting, and coach (Josh) Blakley getting after it. It’s more about my coaching staff and our players than it is about me, for dang sure. It is a great honor and I’m really thankful for it.”

JACKSON FINISHES WITH FIRST-TEAM HONORS

McAllen Rowe alum Ryan Jackson was named to the All-WAC first team as a relief pitcher, following a 4-1 record in conference play with three saves and a 1.07 ERA. In his 25 1/3 innings pitching in the WAC, Jackson struck out 33 and held opponents to a .229 batting average.

The senior right-handed pitcher has been a part of the program for four years and has seen the highs and lows. Although he’s happy being named first team all-conference, Jackson’s focused on putting together wins in his first WAC tournament.

“I worked very hard all spring, putting in the hours from Day 1. We would come in at 6 a.m. weights, 7 a.m. running out on the field, then get ready for practice. So all that hard work shows for me, and I’m thankful for it, but right now I’m just focused on the tournament, trying to get to the (NCAA) regionals,” he said.

SEPULVEDA SHINES, NAMED TO SECOND TEAM

In his first year with the program, junior Christian Sepulveda shrugged off a slow start to the season to finish the year scorching hot as the shortstop/third baseman was named to the All-WAC second team.

An injury in the infield forced Sepulveda, a junior college transfer, to take over shortstop duties and he delivered for the Vaqueros.

“We had to pick up the slack, because we had a missing link. We had our shortstop go down, so we had to move up and everybody grow up and just handle business. It’s an honor to be mentioned on the All-WAC second team,” Sepulveda said.

The New York, New York, native hit a team-best .336 and had seven home runs, five doubles, 28 RBIs and 26 runs scored during 27 WAC games. He also ranks fourth in the WAC in home runs and seventh in RBIs.

Sepulveda and the Vaqueros are now focused on winning this week’s WAC tournament.

“We’re trying to come out of the gates swinging. We’re going to put up a really strong fight and we hope to win the whole thing. We really think we can and we have the team to do it and the arms. We can do it,” he said.

The Vaqueros will face the highest available seed among the winners of today’s opening-round games between No. 3 Sacramento State and No. 6 Utah Valley, and No. 4 Grand Canyon and No. 5 CSU Bakersfield.