RIO GRANDE VALLEY – The UTRGV baseball team made history in 2022.
Much of that history can be seen in the program record book, but the most important number is 3.
UTRGV won 33 games, marking the 3rd-straight full season in which the team has won 30+ games for the first time in over 30 years.
UTRGV is averaging 33 wins over the last 3 completed seasons, a stretch of consistent success not seen since 1983-88, when the team averaged 42 wins and made two NCAA Regional appearances.
A big part of the success was the ability to win on the road. UTRGV won 12 road games, the team’s highest total since 2006 (15). UTRGV went 8-7 in WAC road games, marking the first time UTRGV has ever posted a winning record on the road in WAC play. The last time UTRGV had a winning record in conference road games was 1997, when the team went 10-3 in Sun Belt Conference road games during Hall of Famer Al Ogletree’s final season as head coach.
“I’m really happy about the way we played on the road,” UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock said. “One of our goals was to have a winning record on the road in the WAC, and we finally did that. And then to beat Sam Houston, Abilene Christian and Lamar on the road and win those series was really exciting. That’s hard to do against those guys. They were good teams.”
Overall, UTRGV went 17-13 during WAC play, winning seven of the 10 WAC series. UTRGV won each of its final five road series against WAC teams, including a non-conference series at eventual WAC Champion New Mexico State.
“The Southwest Division of the WAC was outstanding with really strong competition,” Matlock said. “For us to be able to win almost every WAC series shows how consistent we were against really great teams.”
One of the moves that helped the Vaqueros get rolling during WAC play was the addition of Isaac Lopez as the starting shortstop. After sitting out 2021 and not playing early in the season, Lopez earned his opportunity and never looked back – not only impressing with his bat but earning WAC All-Defensive Team honors by playing sparkling defense.
Neither Lopez nor Jacob Sanchez, who earned the everyday first base position early in the season, entered the year, their second with the program, with any type of guaranteed playing time. They took that as a challenge.
“That’s the thing this program is about – culture and guys that are bought-in to this thing and care,” Matlock said. “Isaac and Jacob are Vaqueros. They love it, they breathe it, they get after it every day. They’re consistent workers and you get rewarded for that over time.”
Sanchez and Lopez were part of a juggernaut offense with All-WAC Second Team selections Brett Cain and Brandon Pimentel as well as strong hitters like Freddy Rojas Jr., Bryan Sturges and Cameron Blakethat hit 63 home runs and 101 doubles, the third and fifth-highest single-season totals, respectively, in program history.
Pimentel finished with 12 home runs, tied for the fifth-highest single-season total in program history, while Rojas hit 11, which is tied for ninth. Rojas finished his career with 21 home runs, tied for the second-highest total in program history. Pimentel had a total of 89 hits, the third-highest total in program history and just three shy of the record, 146 total bases, which ranks second, and 17 doubles, which is tied for eighth. Cain finished with 16 doubles, tied for 14thand 116 total bases, three shy of the top 11.
On the mound, UTRGV pitching struck out 485 batters, shattering the previous program record of 435 set in 2018.
Recent New York Yankees organization-signee Kevin Stevens recorded 100 of those strikeouts, tied for the 10thth-highest single-season total in program history. Stevens finished his career with 228 strikeouts, ranking sixth.
“When you start the weekend with Kevin Stevenswho’s an outstanding pitcher and outstanding leader, and then you get to Jesus Aldaz, Colten Davis, JC Ariza and Randy Garzawho came on strong as a left-hander and gave us something different, you’re heard to beat,” Matlock said. “With most of these guys coming back, it’s really exciting for us because we lost two pitchers that were big impact guys – Ricky Gerik Jr. and Kevin Stevens, but the rest of the staff is back. We had an impressive number of strikeouts. What a great year as a whole for the pitching staff.”
Gerik was lights out coming out of the bullpen, recording seventh saves, tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in program history, and finishing his career with nine, which is tied for seventh.
The Rio Grande Valley noticed the success, as UTRGV welcomed an average of 1,551 fans per game, ranking first in the WAC, seventh in Texas, and tied for 48th in the NCAA, and a total of 37,220 fans, the program’s best in over 30 years while ranking first in the WAC, eighth in Texas, and 56th in the NCAA.
UTRGV welcomed three of its four largest crowds since moving into UTRGV Baseball Stadium in 2022, including a program record 6,418 fans for the first home game against Texas in 51 years on April 26.
“The Texas game at home has to be a highlight when looking back at the season,” Matlock said. “For our players to be able to play in that atmosphere… we had one of the top five atmospheres in the country. There’s no doubt about it. To be able to do that here at UTRGV was exciting for our players and the community and that’s what we’re here for.”
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