Nobody can say the UT Arlington baseball team didn’t earn it.The Mavericks lost their best hitter to the MLB draft, their top pitcher graduated and they were picked to finish sixth in a new conference this season. They underwent a stretch in April and May where they missed a key part of their lineup and they never found a Sunday starter.But with a weekend sweep of Sacramento State and a pair of losses from CSU Bakersfield, the Mavericks won a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship, a first for coach Darin Thomas.“This probably isn’t the most talented team we’ve ever had here, but we just always found a way to get it done when we needed to,” Thomas said. “That says something about where we are as a program.”This week at QuikTrip Park, the Mavericks have been placed in a four-team pool with New Mexico State, Texas State and Dallas Baptist with the WAC tournament title and a berth in the NCAA regionals on the line. They face Dallas Baptist at 7 p.m. Wednesday.While it’s a pseudo-home tournament for the Mavericks, they won the conference on the strength of their ability to win on the road. They won five of their last six conference games away from home.“We always found a way to play well on the road,” Thomas said. “That’s the biggest thing that helped us win a championship.”Thomas has never had to guide his team through a conference tournament with the unique pool-play setup that the WAC tournament offers. In rolling through last season’s Southland Conference tournament, UTA simply had to win four consecutive games in a single-elimination bracket.Although there’s room for a loss over the next few days, UTA would prefer to not put its season’s fate in the hands of someone else. For Thomas, he’d just as well win all four games.“We’ll try to win the first two games and if we don’t, we’ll have to hope a little bit,” Thomas said.Given that the Mavericks only have two entrenched starting pitchers — Brad Vachon and Zach Thompson — a loss to Dallas Baptist or New Mexico State would put their season in the hands of a spot starter needing a win against Texas State and a break to advance.Both starters will have to shut down two of the more potent offenses in the conference, although both teams’ numbers were inflated by hitter-friendly ballparks. Vachon threw 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against Dallas Baptist earlier this season.
WAC Baseball Tournament
At QuikTrip Park, Grand Prairie
No. 1 CSU Bakersfield
No. 4 UT-San Antonio
No. 5 Sacramento State
No. 8 San Jose State
No. 2 UTA
No. 3 Texas State
No. 6 New Mexico State
No. 7 Dallas Baptist
UTA vs. Dallas Baptist: RHP Brad Vachon (6-4, 3.45) vs. RHP Cy Sneed (4-3, 5.11), 7 p.m.
UTA vs. New Mexico State: RHP Zach Thompson (6-4, 5.24) vs. TBD, 3 p.m.
UTA vs. Texas State: TBD vs. TBD, 7 p.m.