Dallas Baptist (37-12, 20-4) made the trip down Interstate 35 to San Antonio this weekend to face UTSA (36-12, 19-4) for what appeared to be a premier Conference USA series among the top two teams, with the Roadrunners trailing the Patriots by just half a game for the top spot.
With weather threatening all weekend, the series was rearranged to a Friday doubleheader with a third game to be played whenever a window appeared clear over the next two days.
The Roadrunners took a 2-0 second inning lead in Friday's opening game. But Dallas Baptist reversed things quickly with a three-run swing of the bat by Ethan Mann to take a one run lead in the top of the third inning.
UTSA tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning. Then Dallas Baptist responded with a five-run inning highlighted by a George Specht grand slam to straight away center field for a 8-3 lead.
Dallas Baptist center fielder Nathan Humphreys hit a two-run home run to right field to push the Patriots advantage to 11-5.
Zane Russell was the second of three pitchers used in game one for the Patriots, and he was by far the most effective, delivering 2 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing just one hit while striking out four Roadrunners batters.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, UTSA catcher Josh Killeen hit a two-run home run attempting to create a late rally for the Roadrunners, but it was not to be as the Patriots closed out the game one victory 11-7.
The Patriots trailed 1-0 going to the top of the third inning of Friday’s second game. The Dallas Baptist offense then plated five runs with a Grant Jay three-run home run to center field capping the scoring and the Patriots led 5-1.
The Patriots went into the bottom of the eighth inning leading 9-5. With one out the Patriots turned to ace closer Kyle Amendt to get the final five outs. The Roadrunners loaded the bases with the aid of a walk and two batters hit-by-pitch. Drama ensued when Killeen hit a game-tying grand slam to right-center field, his second home run of the day.
With the nightcap still tied in the top of the ninth inning, Dallas Baptist took the lead right back on another Jay home run, this one a two-run shot to make the score 11-9.
Lightning in the area forced a delay with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the teams eventually resumed play long enough to record the final two outs and secure a series win for the Patriots with the 11-9 victory.
The weather, as had been expected, was not cooperative on Saturday so no baseball was played.
When the two teams returned to action on Sunday afternoon, it was all Dallas Baptist as they jumped out to an early lead.
Humphreys got the scoring started with a two-run double before an out had been recorded in the opening frame. Humphreys was at it again in the second inning as he and Mann both delivered two-run doubles to push the lead to 7-0.
But the Roadrunners did not go away quietly, and they steadily crawled back into the game. Killeen hit his third home run of the weekend, a solo shot in the second inning to get UTSA on the board. The Roadrunners scored runs in four different innings to trail just 9-6 after six innings.
With the bases loaded and the potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, Amendt got a swinging strikeout to cap the 9-6 victory and complete the series sweep. The win also earned the Patriots the Conference USA regular season title in their first season in the new conference.
The 9-6 victory was the 600th career win for Dallas Baptist head coach Dan Heefner. The personal accomplishment aside, Coach Heefner only wanted to talk about his team after the game Sunday.
“One thing we talk a lot about in our program is humility and excellence,” Heefner said. “If you do something for yourself and you succeed, it's satisfying. But when you do something for each other and succeed, that's when you have true joy. That's what these guys can experience right now because they have been so much for each other.”
Heefner sounded like a coach that would not have had the important weekend go any other way.
“This is about as good as it gets, to be able to play each other at the end of the season for a conference championship, to have so many tight moments, to have it go down to having the winning run at the plate to end the ballgame,” Heefner said. “And he [Amendt] punches him out.”
Dallas Baptist has secured the number one spot in the Conference USA Championship which takes place in Houston at Rice’s Reckling Park May 24-28. UTSA is locked into the second spot. Rice, FIU, and UAB are all tied for the final spot in the tournament at 7-20 and only one team gets to advance. Rice hosts FIU next weekend for the final weekend series which could decide the final spot, but UAB, which plays host to Florida Atlantic, could also make a run.
Dallas Baptist (40-12, 23-4) proved this weekend they are capable of competing, by going on the road for the sweep and scoring 31 runs in the process. They are the class of the conference right now. The Patriots pitching, which has helped Dallas Baptist climb into national rankings, including the College Baseball Nation Top 50, has been a big part of that success. While not putting up the best numbers over this weekend, the pitching was enough to capture the number that really mattered: three wins.