UTSA baseball ready to showcase a full season of growth under Coach Hallmark

Pepper Jones delivers a pitch during last year’s Irish Alamo Classic. Jones appeared in six games for the ‘Runners last season making two starts with a 2.19 ERA in 12.1 innings pitched.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

UTSA baseball entered a new era last season with the arrival of new head coach Pat Hallmark. The team showed immediate improvement under Hallmark early in the season, starting the season off with a 10-2 record. A five game losing streak immediately followed this hot start and fans never got the chance to see how the team would respond to their first real brush with adversity, as the rest of the 2020 season was cancelled due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly a year later now, baseball is finally set to throw out the first pitch of 2021, and the season will see the return of a number of familiar faces with unfinished business from last year.


The team was initially set to play a 49-game schedule this season, 20 of which were to be played at home, but the season and home opening series against the University of Utah was cancelled this past weekend after Texas was swept up in the severe polar vortex. With this cancellation in mind, UTSA will now only play a 46-game schedule this season and only 17 games at home unless a new opponent is found in the coming months. The schedule calls for 32 Conference USA games this season, that will be played over the course of eight four-game weekends from Friday to Sunday. During the weekend series, seven-inning doubleheaders will be played on Saturdays. Other notable dates during the season include an 11-game road trip from March 14-28, with two games apiece against Louisiana St. University and the University of Baylor from March 12-16. UTSA will close out their season with a matchup against coach Hallmark’s former team, the University of the Incarnate Word on May 18. 


UTSA returns a number of starters from last season’s team, starting on the offensive side of the lineup. Utilityman Jonathan Tapia, infielder Joshua Lamb, outfielder Chase Keng, infielder Taylor Barber, infielder Leyton Barry, infielder Griffin Paxton, outfielder Dylan Rock and catcher Nick Thornquist all return as regular offensive starters for the ‘Runners this season. This can only be a good sign for a ‘Runners’ offense that put up an above-average 5.9 runs per game last season, 118th in the nation out of 298 teams. Specifically, look to Rock as the main engine driving the offense following an abbreviated 2020 season where he hit .365 with six doubles, tied for 81st in the country, and 10 stolen bases, tied for 15th in the country. Rock’s abbreviated season last year has certainly placed some high expectations on him as he was ranked the 68th best outfielder in college baseball, according to D1baseball.com. Right alongside Rock at the top of the order, Leyton Barry is also primed for a huge year after hitting .353, with three home runs and 14 runners batted in (RBI), primarily from the leadoff spot last season. 

The pitching staff, however, will be a major question mark this season, especially on the front end. Shane Daughety returns for his senior season coming off of a 2020 season where he went 3-1 in four starts with a 3.92 earned run average (ERA) while averaging 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Who will be starting games beyond Daughety, however, is a giant question for this team. Hunter Grimes, Pepper Jones, Luke Malone and Jacob Jimenez all started games for the ‘Runners last season, but none did so more than twice, and most of them were primarily used in relief appearances. Which of these pitchers manage to establish themselves as the number two and three options in the rotation behind Daughety will be one of the key storylines to keep an eye on early in the season. The questions on the pitching staff do not even stop at the roster, as there is a new pitching coach this season for the ‘Runners. Hallmark brought on former Nicholls pitching coach Zach Butler to serve under him in the same role for UTSA. Butler brings a wealth of experience and pedigree to UTSA, as he twice oversaw a Nicholls staff that finished in the top 20 in the nation in ERA. 

As many questions as the front-end of the pitching staff may face, the back end of the bullpen is set to provide some needed consistency. Senior Hunter Mason returns to the ‘Runners after recording two saves in seven appearances last year, primarily serving as secondary closer behind Palmer Wenzel, who has since been a graduate transfer to the University of Texas. Behind Mason, Hallmark and Butler will have plenty of options to choose from in the bullpen. Zachary Griggs appeared in only one game for the ‘Runners last season, but enjoyed a standout Texas Collegiate League (TCL) season for the Brazos Valley Bombers that saw him make him 11 appearances including one start, posting a 1.39 ERA, a team-high 30 strikeouts and allowing just nine hits total en-route to a TCL championship and Texas Collegiate League All-Star Team honors. Another standout reliever during the TCL was UTSA’s Arturo Guajardo, who made 10 relief appearances for the San Antonio Flying Chanclas, recording a 1.96 ERA, 30 strikeouts and just 10 hits allowed in 18.1 innings pitched. With options like these available, attempting to come back in games late against the ‘Runners this season is promising to be a struggle for opposing teams. 

The 2021 season is shaping up to be an exciting one for the ‘Runners. Unless the situation rapidly deteriorates, we are likely going to get to see what a full year of UTSA baseball looks like under coach Hallmark. With a number of key offensive starters returning, there is little doubt that this team will be able to score runs, but their ceiling may be determined by the strength of the pitching staff. If one of the numerous starting pitching candidates manages to step up and fortify the rotation behind Daughety, this team has the potential to contend for a Conference USA title. 

UTSA’s season will throw out its first pitch of the season on Friday, Feb. 26, in Huntsville, against the Sam Houston Bearkats. The ‘Runners will play a three-game series there from Feb. 26-28.