UTA baseball hopes to power into Sun Belt Tournament

05/14/2014 7:36 PM

11/12/2014 5:21 PM

Entering this season, UT Arlington baseball coach Darin Thomas thought he had a pitching-first team that wouldn’t put a ton of pressure on a veteran-filled lineup in the more potent Sun Belt Conference.

Boy, was he off about that prediction.

UTA’s pitching staff is statistically the third-worst unit in the Sun Belt, and not one of the opening weekend starting pitchers own an ERA lower than 5.33. After a sweep by Texas State to open conference play in which they blew two late leads, the Mavericks have become an entirely different team.

Powered by a nationally ranked lineup, the Mavericks climbed back from a dreadful start by going 22-11 since. And having won 11 of their last 13, the Mavericks close the regular season against the Bobcats this week at Clay Gould Ballpark.

Both teams sit at 16-11 in Sun Belt play with a No. 3 seed in next week’s conference tournament on the line. A No. 2 seed is within reach with Arkansas State only one game ahead, but Thomas said his team is taking the simplified approach.

“It’s a pride thing for us,” he said. “If you’re tied with the team you’re playing, go out and win the series.”

The Mavericks are ranked among the nation’s leaders in batting average, doubles, home runs and slugging percentage, and they’ve needed every bit of it to save their season. They’ve scored five or more runs in 15 straight games.

After shortstop Peter Cuomo went down with an injury in early April, the Mavericks have found success by getting Eric Tate’s bat into the lineup. Tate wasn’t profiled as an offense-first hitter, but he’s batting .366 with the best on-base percentage (.470) on the team.

His 19-walks-to-11-strikeouts ratio has been another defining characteristic of how UTA approaches each at-bat. The lineup has nearly as many walks and hit-by-pitches (277) as it has strikeouts (312).

“That’s something we talk about a lot. It runs pitch counts up and hopefully gets starting pitchers out of the game an inning earlier,” Thomas said.

They’ll hope to incorporate that against Texas State, which plays to its strength on the mound. The Bobcats’ pitching staff is a strikeout-heavy group that holds opposing hitters to a .253 clip. Three of the top five strikeout pitchers in the conference are Bobcats starters.

But Texas State, which could be considered the opposite of UTA, hits only .250 as a team and is second-worst in the Sun Belt at getting on base.

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