GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Texas State won its first ever Western Athletic Conference Tournament game while handing New Mexico State its ninth consecutive WAC Tournament loss in impressive fashion. The Bobcats scored seven runs combined in the third and fifth innings to put the game out of reach en route to a 9-4 victory to open the team’s tournament play.
With the win, Texas State joins No. 2 UT Arlington as one of two teams in Pool B without a loss. The teams will meet Saturday at 7 p.m., but Texas State’s next opponent will be No. 7 Dallas Baptist at 11 a.m. Friday.
“It’s always nice to win the first game because this time of year, it’s always about winning and moving to the next day,” Head Coach Ty Harrington said. “For us, there was a moment early where I thought we did some good things offensively so that was important for us, then having our freshman Lucas Humpal settle in was important too.”
Lucas Humpal pitched a career high 6.2 innings, throwing 131 pitches and only giving up runs in one of those innings. He kept one of the best hitting teams in the WAC off balance for most of the day, despite a two-run homer in the second. He struck out four and walked two while giving up seven hits for two runs.
“He started the year in the bullpen for us, and was really good out of the pen. He threw really well against these guys the first week of conference so we were comfortable with him going out there,” Harrington said. “He’s grown into being a good starter for us in the last month or so. We weren’t worried about him tiring that much, even though he hasn’t been over 100 pitches all year, because he is in good enough shape that he could go past that if he needed to, which he did.”
Steven Keenum, Austen Williams and Donnie Hart were able to relieve Humpal, combining for the final 2.1 innings to finish the Aggies. Williams struck out two while Keenum and Hart let their defense do most of the work.
Humpal and the pitching staff benefitted from early run support from the Bobcat lineup as the teams scored a run in both the first and second innings before going for three runs in the third. Garrett Mattlage finished 3-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. His home run gave the Bobcats a 3-2 lead, which they never relinquished the rest of the way.
“I had a good at bat. I saw some pitches because it was a long at bat. He ended up making the mistake, and I just put a good swing on it. I was just trying to put it in the gap, and it left the ballpark,” Mattlage said. “I just try to do my job. If I can just do that, then normally it just rolls and it’s contagious.”
The rest of the team definitely caught fire. Ben McElroy, playing in right field for the first time this season, also knocked a bomb, his first of the year. Colby Targun was the first Bobcat to flirt with the fence, nearly going yard right before Mattlage. Despite coming up just short in that at bat, he finished the day 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run.
Texas State tallied 11 hits on the day with four Bobcats notching multiple hits and six Bobcats finishing the day with RBI.
The Bobcats started strong defensively, and it carried to the bottom of the first. Humpal picked up an assist on a groundout and struck the next batter out. Austin O’Neal completed the 1-2-3 inning with a diving stop down the right line. A toss to Humpal at first base ended the top of the first in a hurry.
In the bottom of the inning, Targun was first to get on base with a hit by pitch. Mattlage followed with a bunt single, and then Andrew Stumph sent one up the middle to score Targun and claim the early 1-0 lead.
The second inning was a different story. New Mexico State, with 50 home runs on the season, showed its hitting power with a two-run homer over the left field fence. After a walk to start the inning, Robert Lecount, an All-WAC player for NMSU, launched a home run high into the air that came down just past the left field fence for an NMSU, 2-1 lead.
Texas State was able to tie it in the bottom of the second when Tyler Pearson scored, making it the second hit batsman of the day to cross home plate. After Pearson took a hit by pitch, he moved to second on a balk. Morgan Mickan sent a blooper just over the second baseman’s head into shallow right field to plate Pearson for the tying run, 2-2.
After dodging trouble in the top of the third, Texas State put up three runs in the bottom of the inning for a 5-2 lead. Mattlage, after bunting for a hit in his first at bat, went for power in his second at bat with his third home run of the year, this one to right field. Texas State added more when, after a McElroy single and an O’Neal walk, Pearson extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a knock to left center to score McElroy. O’Neal scored on the next at bat when the NMSU shortstop couldn’t handle a Mickan grounder to make it 5-2 in favor of Texas State.
Nick Smelser followed O’Neal with a diving play of his own at the other corner. He showed a quick reaction time with a diving play on a lineout to end the top of the fourth, holding New Mexico State to a three up, three down inning. Mickan continued the strong defensive effort for Texas State, running up for a diving catch on a liner to shallow center in the top of the fifth.
After scoring a run, McElroy went looking for an RBI. He picked it up with his first home run of the season, a solo shot to right field to put the Bobcats up, 6-2. Texas State kept the pressure on with two more runs later in the inning. O’Neal walked and Mickan singled before NMSU relief pitcher Casey Collins walked Kevin Sah to load the bases for Targun. He knocked a single to shallow center to score two, and Mattlage sent one past the second baseman for another run to push the Texas State lead to 9-2.
New Mexico State was able to score two runs in the eighth inning to close the gap to 9-4, but the Aggies would need much more to have any hope of catching the Bobcats.
Texas State will next play No. 7 Dallas Baptist (0-1 in WAC Tournament play) at 11 a.m. Friday. Taylor Black is scheduled to start for the Bobcats. Just last weekend, Texas State beat Dallas Baptist two of three games. Saturday, Texas State will face No. 2 UT Arlington at 7 p.m. and the WAC Championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. Click here for WAC Tournament Central.