The UT Arlington baseball team and area rival Dallas Baptist have a unique relationship. As the closest NCAA Division I baseball program to Arlington — 12 miles away — the Patriots and Mavericks’ yearly meetings are always one-sided, depending on the year.In 2010, Dallas Baptist owned UTA by winning three out of four games. In 2011, UTA swept Dallas Baptist. Last season, Dallas Baptist beat UTA in all three meetings, including a victory in the NCAA Regionals in Waco.At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Brad Vachon will take the mound and try to establish this year as a UTA year as he and the Mavericks play host to Dallas Baptist in a Western Athletic Conference weekend series at Clay Gould Ballpark.“It all comes down to pitching,” UTA coach Darin Thomas said. “When we’re able to beat them, we’re beating them by pitching really well.”Last season, in UTA’s first NCAA Regional appearance since 2006, Thomas started his ace, Lance Day, against Dallas Baptist, but the plan backfired. Day started on five days’ rest — two less than he’d done all season — and the Patriots’ explosive lineup ran him from the game after four innings en route to a 10-0 victory.The Mavericks (24-21, 12-6 WAC) have an entirely new rotation this season, headed by Vachon. The junior transfer from Cisco College is holding hitters to a .223 batting average and giving UTA a chance to win every Friday. Saturday starter Zach Thompson’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but his tall frame and fastball has caught the eye of a few scouts.Without a true third starter he can count on, Thomas isn’t committed to a Sunday starter this late in the season. But if UTA absolutely needs a win this Sunday, he said he plans on going with junior Keegan Hucul.The task at hand for Vachon and Thompson is straightforward — mow through the powerful Patriots lineup and keep UTA on track for a second consecutive conference championship.“We’re trying to win a conference championship,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that won it last year that know what it takes to win it again.” Dallas Baptist (23-22, 9-9 WAC) leads the overall series 32-31.Led by Birdville product Duncan McAlpine, Dallas Baptist hits home runs with the best in the nation. Only three Division I teams have more home runs than the Patriots’ 45. McAlpine leads the WAC with 12 homers, while freshman Austin Listi has eight.The Patriots score 6.6 runs per game and slug .458 as a team, but they’re also nimble on the base paths, having stolen 43 bases this season.UTA sits three games ahead of preseason favorite Dallas Baptist in the WAC, which speaks to the ability of the Mavericks to win conference games without mashing the ball out of the yard. Matt Shortall has five homers, but Thomas said this team isn’t built to win that way.“We established early on that we’re going to play hard, play with energy and grind out wins and get to the finish line in contention for another conference championship,” Thomas said.With nine games — 10 if you count a final nonconference game at TCU — left to play, the Mavericks sit in good shape. But considering every WAC team except Louisiana Tech sits within five games of first place, nine games means there’s a lot of baseball to be played.
UTA vs. Dallas Baptist
at Clay Gould Ballpark, Arlington
Game 1: Brad Vachon (5-3, 3.00) vs. Jake Johansen (5-4, 5.37), 6:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: Zach Thompson (5-3, 5.19) vs. Cy Sneed (3-3, 5.59), 2 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: TBA vs. Cody Beam (3-1, 5.05), 1 p.m. Sunday