Facing top-flight pitchers is nothing new to the UT Arlington baseball team.
Over the past few years, the Mavericks (10-8, 2-1 Sun Belt) have faced the best pitchers in college baseball and lived to tell the tale.
On Friday, they’ll face the Sun Belt’s premier ace when they start a three-game set at South Alabama’s Stanky Field.
The Jaguars (12-5, 3-0 SBC) feature Kevin Hill — last season’s conference pitcher of the year — who’s struck out 38 batters in 28 1/3 innings, walking only six in four starts. Opposing hitters have a dismal .184 batting average against Hill (3-1, 1.91), who threw a 12-strikeout complete game against Georgia on Feb. 26.
“[He] just doesn’t lose,” UTA coach Darin Thomas said. “They play really well behind him too, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Hill isn’t the typical college ace. He isn’t a big right-hander who throws 95 mph. Instead, Hill has pinpoint command and an advanced four-pitch mix that can make life tough for hitters. His 38 strikeouts are the fifth-most in the nation.
But facing star pitchers is something UTA does every year. Last year, the Mavericks faced two first-round draft picks, beating Dillon Tate (No. 4 Texas Rangers) on the road and having a lead when Jon Harris (No. 29 Toronto Blue Jays) left the game.
“We face so many of these guys every year, it really doesn’t seem to bother us,” Thomas said. “We just treat it like any other game.”
Behind Hill, however, the Jaguars haven’t gotten much from their Saturday and Sunday starters. Austin Bembnowski (1-0, 5.40) and Harrison Spruiell (1-0, 4.63) got big games from the Jaguars’ lineup in last weekend’s sweep of UALR.
That opens up a nice opportunity for Kadon Simmons (4-1, 2.13) to take over on Saturday. Simmons has been lights-out the last two weeks, throwing eight shutout innings in back-to-back starts to lower his ERA to 2.13 and help the Mavericks win consecutive Saturdays.
It’s all about getting an early lead for Simmons and Joel Kuhnel (3-1, 1.48), who’ll go head-to-head with Hill on Friday. Kuhnel doesn’t have the gaudy strikeout numbers, but he’s only allowed four earned runs in 24 1/3 innings.
And once the Mavericks get a lead into the seventh inning, they’ve been a perfect 10-0 this season. Daniel James and Jacob Moreland haven’t surrendered a lead all season.
Hot start for Cox
Entering the weekend hitting .383, Brady Cox is evolving into a polished hitter.
The Fort Worth Arlington Heights standout made a smooth transition defensively from third to catcher last season, and with a solid foundation calling games, he’s starting to find his hitting stroke.
After hitting just .274 without much power last season, he’s driving the ball in the fifth spot in the order. His 12 RBIs are second-most on the team, and he’s recorded hits in all but two games he’s started this season.
UTA at South Alabama
6:30 p.m. Friday, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday