It will be an uphill battle to the final showdown with Utah Valley University for the Bronc baseball team. And they are determined to get there and conquer.
Not only are the Broncs out for revenge against UVU, but they will have to endure the first month of play on the road and face tougher competition, including three NCAA top-ranked schools.
“It’s going to be real hard,” said senior catcher Christian Torres. “Obviously we want to play on our home field. That’s where we practice, that’s where we’ve been since August, that’s where we’re comfortable, but it’s going to be a big test for us.”
After playing away for so long and battling some tough competition, the Broncs will get their shot at a comeback – closing the season with a home series against the UVU Wolverines before heading to New Jersey for the Great West Conference.
“They get to play our game at our park which doesn’t fit for some teams,” said Shane Klemcke, a team leader. “But I think we’re a little deeper in the bullpen this year and we’ve got more depth everywhere. So I think this is a good year we can upset UVU.”
Last season, UVU took home the conference ring and went undefeated in the GWC last season (28-0). The Broncs have lost every game against UVU.
This year’s schedule includes No. 13 Texas Christian University, No. 24 Texas A&M University and No. 26 University of Texas, as ranked by the NCAA Jan. 28. The season begins Feb. 15 and the first home series begin March 15 against Lamar University.
Last year the Broncs lost a close game to UT, but were able to split the two-game series against No. 8 A&M Aggies.
“I want to stick it to Texas because I have a buddy that plays for that team,” said Shane Ammon, a transfer from Grayson County College. “I can’t wait for it. I heard A&M gets pretty bad with the crowd.”
The Broncs dropped the first game, but pulled a big upset last year when they beat A&M 5-2 the following day. The Aggies went on to finish their season 43-18 (.705), the Longhorns went 30-22 (.577) and the TCU Horned Frogs were 40-22 (.645), while the Broncs recorded a 30-22 (.577) season.
Besides these top dogs, the team will be playing stronger teams overall.
“We’re definitely playing a better schedule,” infielder Klemcke said. “The teams we played in the preseason last year right before conference weren’t…as strong.”
Torres believes the Broncs have a great mentality on the field and will do what’s necessary to win against these schools – take hits, run harder and take extra bases.
“Just being blue-collar people, we’re not like UT, we’re not like A&M,” said Torres, a Miami native. “We’re not schools that are going to win because it says Texas A&M Aggies on our jerseys.”
Last season, after having their best start in years and starting conference play 8-0, the Broncs headed over to Utah Valley, who also had the same record at that time. It was going to be a test to see who the big dogs of the GWC would be.
As fate would have it, the Wolverines beat the Broncs, sweeping the series. This year it is one of the team’s most anticipated match-ups and the guys hope they can turn the tables on their rival.
“We were both 8-0 going into that series and they put it to us,” said Torres, also a team leader chosen by Coach Mantrana. “That’s probably one of the worst feelings I’ve had. They just put it to us and I want to return the favor now when they come to our place.”
Besides finishing with a winning record, the Broncs placed second in conference, but this year that won’t be good enough for them, according to Torres. As the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics prepares to move over to the Western Athletic Conference July 1, the Broncs want to end this conference on a high note – as GWC champions.
“We’re going to go out with a bang,” Klemcke said excitedly. “I think everybody wants to win, especially going into the WAC next year. It’ll be awesome for the program to get that under their belt going into the WAC.”
Making the transition with the Broncs to the WAC is, once again, UVU. The Broncs will close the regular season with a home series against that school May 16-18.
“Obviously UT’s cool and A&M’s cool, but at the end of the day, those games mean nothing to us,” Torres said about the difference between non-conference and conference games. “You know they’re big-time programs so, when we beat them, it’s going to be a big thing for the school because we are beating a very big opponent, but if we lose to them or if we win it’s not going to make a difference when it comes to conference.”
Torres is prepared to go out fighting and expects the same from his teammates. They are ready for the anticipated matchup and believe this is the year they can trample over the Wolverines, even if it proves to be a difficult task.
“We may be down 10-1, but we’re going to keep pushing and pushing ourselves,” said Torres about the mentality the coaches have been instilling in the players. “We either tie the game or we lose, but we’re not going to lose by laying down.”
Because both UTPA and UVU will be making the transition into the WAC next school year, Torres hopes the rivalry will only get better in the years to come.
“I want our guys to see how bad we want to beat them,” Torres said. “And then when we leave they want to beat them and the team after that sees that and then we become a rivalry.”