Baseball in Alamode

The U baseball team heads back to the diamond this weekend, traveling to Texas to take on the UT-San Antonio Roadrunners, last year’s Southland Conference champion.

The Roadrunners opened up their 2006 campaign Tuesday evening, dropping an extra-inning heartbreaker to Houston. San Antonio looked to have some semblance of control on multiple occasions, but the Cougars wouldn’t go away.

UTSA held a 7-4 lead going into the bottom half of the ninth inning, but Houston’s Bryan Tully belted a two-out, 3-2 pitch over the right-field fence for the game-tying homer to push the game into extra innings.

The Roadrunners added three more runs in the top of the tenth, but once again couldn’t hold on-and once again, the Cougars responded in dramatic fashion. Brad Lincoln-who was also the Cougars’ starting pitcher-cracked a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to clinch Houston’s comeback victory.

Lincoln was the only batter UTSA junior Blake Brannon faced, as he suffered the loss. But he will get a chance at redemption this weekend when he faces off against Ute newcomer Lucas Trinnaman in the first game of the teams’ three-game set.

In his first Division-I start last week, Trinnaman allowed just one run in three and two-thirds innings pitched but took a no-decision in the Utes’ 4-1 loss.

Trinnaman will face a Roadrunner squad that, offensively at least, looks much different from last year’s group, which overcame a 0-11 start and eventually secured a conference title and an automatic NCAA bid. This year, the potent offense has suffered some key departures. Many of the Roadrunners’ top hitters and run producers have graduated, including Ryan Crew, who hit .397 with 36 RBI, and Chris Lewis, who led last year’s squad with nine homers, 17 doubles and 50 RBI.

“They have quite a few new guys. In the middle of the lineup, they’re new,” U head coach Bill Kinneberg said. “But they’ve got three of their four starting pitchers back. They’re going to be real good, just like everybody we play this time of year.”

The Roadrunners were picked to finish fifth in the Southland Conference in preseason polls voted on by coaches and sports information directors. The team is led by preseason first-team all-conference third baseman Ryan Saltzgaber, who hit .288 last season with 30 RBI.

This weekend will be much like the last one for the Utes. Head coach Bill Kinneberg will send the same rotation to the mound that he did last weekend-Trinnaman on Friday, Eric King Saturday and veteran Jason Price Sunday-and he will continue to tinker with his lineups and get as many people playing time as possible.

The goal, he says, is to have most of his starting positions filled, the pitching rotation set and the batting order in place by the time the team’s three-game series with Southern Utah rolls around on March 9. That set precedes the Utes’ first conference tilt, an April 1 showdown against BYU in Provo.

The Ute pitching staff performed admirably in often-difficult conditions at New Mexico State last weekend, and Kinneberg expects that to continue as Trinnaman and King take the mound the second time around. The biggest concerns the Utes saw in their first weekend were the number of walks surrendered-25 in three games-and the offense’s inability to put clutch runs on the board in the first two games, both losses.

“It’s still kind of frustrating that we lost the first two games,” junior third baseman Jay Brossman said. “We had great chances to win the first two and kind of blew it away. We just didn’t get it done. In that case, there’s no excuses for that.”

The Utes managed just 16 hits in the first two games against New Mexico State before cranking out 22 in the game three blowout. Brossman, one of the team’s top hitters and a two-time All-MWC selection, expects to see the team settle down in its second weekend on the field.

“As an offense, we need to relax a little more,” he said. “We just need to realize what our capabilities are and not try to do more than we can.”

Game one is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST, while Saturday and Sunday’s games will both start in the early afternoon.

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