Sitting in front of a crowd of reporters last week, UT Arlington’s top pitcher, Brad Vachon, romanticized how Feb. 14 — college baseball’s opening day — was right around the corner.“You start [the school year] with your off-season and the buildup, the anticipation of getting there is just astronomical,” he said.At 3 p.m. Friday, Vachon takes the hill against Stephen F. Austin to begin the UTA Invitational at Clay Gould Ballpark.They’ll face Incarnate Word and Oklahoma State to round out the weekend.Despite having seven returners from last season’s 31-27 Western Athletic Conference championship team, UTA is picked to finish fifth by Sun Belt Conference coaches. Yet for any disappointment that may have come from what the Mavericks consider a slight, they’re a team that knows preseason polls don’t mean anything.They were picked to finish eighth and sixth the past two season, but ultimately won conference championships.Coach Darin Thomas understands this is just the first of four weekend series that the Mavericks have to prepare for the toughest conference slate in program history.The Sun Belt finished with the fifth-highest RPI last season, much higher than the 18th-ranked WAC.The only one true addition to the UTA lineup is Levi Scott, a Burleson product who hit .359 in 33 games at Howard Junior College last season.J.M. Twichell shifts to left field, where Thomas believes he fits more naturally.Derek Miller shifts from left field to center field, and Travis Sibley moves from third base to shortstop.Peter Cuomo takes over full time at third base after spending last season as the utility infielder.Changes will naturally be made as the season moves forward, but Thomas needs to see his team play some games and figure out what he has.“We just need to get on the field and start defining some roles from guys,” he said.One role Thomas would like to see solidified early is the one Jess Amedee gets first crack at on Sunday as the Mavericks’ No. 3 starter.A converted closer from Central Arizona Community College, Amedee has a three-pitch mix that has drawn scouting attention. His first test will come against Oklahoma State on Sunday.
2014 UTA Invitational
Clay Gould Ballpark
3 p.m. Friday, UTA vs. Stephen F. Austin
3 p.m. Saturday, UTA vs. Incarnate Word
3 p.m. Sunday, UTA vs. Oklahoma State