EDINBURG — The defending Western Athletic Conference regular season champion UTRGV Vaqueros opened their 2020 season in grand fashion Friday night.

The Vaqueros welcomed Big 12 opponent Kansas State to UTRGV Baseball Stadium and walked away with a 5-0 victory as UTRGV’s Kevin Stevens and John Henry Gonzalez combined for a one-hit shutout against the Wildcats.

“When you’ve got pitchers pounding the strike zone with pretty good stuff, that’s a good way to start it on the mound,” UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock said. “I thought our guys competed really well, had a lot of energy, they showed some maturity. It’s exciting.”

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Conrado Diaz (27) celebrates after a his double in the first inning against Kansas State during a season opener at the UTRGV Baseball Stadium on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

While it was the first game of the season for either team, Stevens and Gonzalez looked in midseason form.

Stevens, a redshirt junior making his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery, got the opening day start for the Vaqueros and collected nine strikeouts in five innings of pitching.

“Coming back from Tommy John, it’s really difficult. It’s a long process, but this was my first start coming off of it and I felt really good. I just had to trust myself, to be honest with you, and that’s what I did,” Stevens said. “I felt really good. Everything was really working for me today. I really just went out there and tried to trust my teammates as much as I could. (I) tried to put the ball wherever I wanted it. I felt like I was placing all my pitches, so the ball felt good coming out.”

“Wow. First collegiate start. The guy’s been out two years with Tommy John,” Matlock said. “He’s never been a starting pitcher, and we give him the ball Friday night to open our season because he works his butt off everyday. He’s got some grit, some fight, and he goes out there and gives us exactly what we asked for. I’m so proud of him. It’s pretty amazing to do in his first start.”

After Stevens went to work for five innings, UTRGV turned to Gonzalez, an Edinburg High graduate.

Gonzalez spent his freshman season at Texas Tech before transferring to UTRGV and sitting out last year due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.

Gonzalez made the most of his homecoming as he pitched the final four innings against Kansas State, compiling five strikeouts, allowing just one hit and no runs in his first appearance with UTRGV.

His mindset entering the ball game in the top of the sixth?

“Just get after it, man, represent for the city,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I’ve taken a year off, so when I came into the game, I was just ready to get after it.”

“He did a good job. Man, he had his fastball going 92-93, they had a tough time getting to him,” Matlock said of Gonzalez.

Five different UTRGV batters accounted for the Vaqueros runs as Andy Atwood, Conrado Diaz, Christian Sepulveda, Elijah Alexander and Jacob Hirsh drove in teammates. The Vaqueros out-hit Kansas State 9-1.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Christian Sepulveda (12) watches his hit fly into the outfield against Kansas State during the first inning in a season opener at the UTRGV Baseball Stadium on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

UTRGV and Kansas State will meet in part two of their four-game series at 2 p.m. today at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg. Sunday’s game is also scheduled to start at the same time. Monday’s series finale against the Wildcats is slated for 7 p.m.

“They’re going to come out and fight,” Matlock said of Kansas State. “That’s a great ball club with some great arms and some great hitters in that lineup. Tomorrow’s a new day and they’ll see that ball a little better. You take a good win, but you leave it behind you and you go forward.”

bramos@themonitor.com