May 30, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas – The 2013 edition of the UT Arlington Mavericks not only won a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship, but made history in the process. For the first time, the program claimed conference titles in successive years.
Considering the Mavericks were picked to finish near the bottom of the league this year, following up a Southland Conference Tournament title with a WAC crown is a testament to the job done by head coach Darin Thomas and the players.
"I felt like they really over achieved," Thomas said. "We were picked sixth or seventh in the preseason poll and then ended up winning it, averaging winning two out of three every weekend. We had three sweeps and never got swept."
The Mavericks fashioned an 18-9 conference record to tie CSU Bakersfield for the top spot in the WAC. UT Arlington had four home series compared to five on the road, and if not for a questionable call against Bakersfield, perhaps the Mavericks claim an outright title and No. 1 seed for the WAC Tournament.
In the rubber match of a three-game series against Bakersfield early in the season, a potential game-tying run in the 10th inning was taken off the board by what was ruled a ground-rule double. Justin Copeland would have scored easily on the smash by Brandon Lawrence, but was forced to go back to third. The Mavericks would lose 6-5 and ended up leaving UTA tied with Bakersfield in the standings, though the Roadrunners were the No. 1 tournament seed via the tiebreaker.
The Mavericks didn't dwell on that setback. UT Arlington would lose only three of nine conference series, and swept Sacramento State on the road to end the regular season. The Mavericks also dealt with a number of injuries throughout the season, losing regulars such as Copeland and Travis Pinchback for key stretches. The pitching staff was stretched thin as Kasey Merck was lost for the season.
"As far as this year went, it was never easy," Thomas said. "We had injuries, we had some setbacks, you name it. It seemed like we couldn’t get our whole team on the field at the same time, but we never worried about it and just plugged another guy in there.
"New Mexico State was a perfect example. We don't have Copeland all weekend we don't have Pinchback all weekend, so Brent Bollinger plugs in and does well. We win two out of three at a tough place to win, and it was just stories like that all year long that made it a neat season."
UT Arlington 31-27 after going 36-25 in 2012. Several Mavericks had outstanding seasons, led by Matt Shortall. The junior designated hitter batted .362 and had 54 RBI. Shortall led the team with eight home runs. He was named to Louisville Slugger third-team All-American, College Sports Madness fourth-team All-American Team and WAC Field Player of the Year, first-team All-WAC and a semifinalist for the Olson Award.
Shortall, McCall and Vachon are eligible to return next season, as are the majority of the pitching staff and fielders. Among the pitchers that the Mavericks can bring back are Zach Thompson (6-5), Daniel Milliman (4-3), Chase Weaver (4-1), Andy Scott (1-1) and John Beck (two saves).
The regular starting infield – McCall, first baseman John Michael Twichell, second baseman Darien McLemore, third baseman Sibley and shortstop Ryan Walker – are able to return. Left fielder Derek Miller and right fielder Copeland are also underclassmen.
"We've got both corner outfielders that started a majority of the year back, our whole infield, and our catching situation is in good shape with Greg," Thomas said. "And we've got a situation where a lot of innings are coming back on the mound. Of all the innings we threw, we've got about 90 percent of those innings coming back. And obviously when the draft hits, that'll play a little role, but we had a very good early signing class, full of good kids, so it's looking good."
The Mavericks figure to have their hands full heading into the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Sun Belt recently had four teams qualify for the NCAA Regionals.
"It’s a very good league," Thomas said. "We're looking forward it and to the challenges like we looked forward to the challenge of going into the WAC. We understand it doesn't matter whether it's WAC, Southland, Sun Belt, we know you need to get better every year and we're not there yet, but were getting close.
"We've accomplished a couple things in the past two years what we can be proud of and that the supporters of the program can be proud of, but we need to continue to keep getting better."