Called "a work in progress" by first-year coach Jason Marshall, the UTSA baseball program has raised some eyebrows this spring by peaking at an opportune time.
The Roadrunners made their first and only season in the Western Athletic Conference a memorable one, winning the league's tournament championship last weekend to qualify for their third NCAA regional in school history.
Picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the WAC, UTSA entered the postseason tournament as the No. 4 seed and went 4-0 in earning its third berth in an NCAA regional.
"We played well at the beginning of the year, but didn't play all that well when we got to conference," junior third baseman RJ Perucki said. "Now we're putting everything together – pitching, defense, hitting – as a team.
"To play only one season in the WAC and win the conference championship and then go to a regional, it's nice to be one and done and go out on top. It's a dream. School's out and we're just playing baseball. It's been a lot of fun."
No. 4 seed UTSA (35-23) plays No. 3 national seed and host Oregon State (45-10) at 7 p.m. Friday in Corvallis, Ore.
Texas A&M (32-27) faces UC Santa Barbara (34-23) in the other Corvallis Regional at 2 p.m. The Aggies and UC Santa Barbara are seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the regional
The four-team, double-elimination tournament has games scheduled Saturday and Sunday. If an extra game is needed to determine the regional champion, the title game would be played at 7 p.m. Monday.
Roadrunners finished last in Southland Conference last year
UTSA, which has won seven consecutive games and 10 of its last 11, is 0-4 in NCAA regional play. The Roadrunners went 0-2 in 1994 and 0-2 in 2005.
UTSA were 15-11 in WAC play, finishing fourth among 10 teams. This year's conference tournament title is the third for the Roadrunners, who were in the Southland Conference before moving to the WAC last summer. UTSA will move yet again this summer, going to Conference USA.
What's made the postseason run even more gratifying for the Roadrunners is that they went 22-32 last year and finished last in the SLC.
"We tried to change the culture as much as we could," Perucki said. "Last year we were content with where we were. Nobody liked losing last year. It was embarrassing finishing at the bottom. We weren't that bad.
"This year, we had an expectation to win our conference, to win our tournament and go to a regional. Now that we're at a regional, we're not content just to be there. We want to win the regional and make a super regional and go from there. We want to go as long as we can."
Marshall, 42, was an assistant coach at UTSA for 12 years before succeeding Sherman Corbett last summer.
"Coach Marshall is always out there with us," Perucki said. "He's really a hands-on guy."
Perucki is Roadrunners' top hitter
Marshall, who played shortstop at Texas A&M before going on to the Texas League, set high standards for the Roadrunners after he took over the program.
"We play the game extremely hard and that's one thing I've preached from the beginning," Marshall said. "We want to have a memorable personality about our ballclub. When someone plays us, we want them to remember our character and how hard we played. We also want them to remember our execution."
"We tried to set a tempo, a pace, from the first day of the fall. You think about that in basketball, you think about it football and how rapid plays are. But even in the game of baseball, how you move your feet and how you hustle from home to first, how you throw the ball around the horn after a strikeout, you set a pace."
Perucki, a 2009 Tomball High School graduate, has had a breakout season this year. He leads the team in batting average (.349), runs (49), home runs (12) and total bases (129).
Perucki was outstanding at the plate in the WAC tournament. He hit a home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the 14th inning to give UTSA a 3-2 win over Sacramento State in the first round, and hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat the next day in a 13-3 victory against San Jose State.
"I fell in love with RJ when he was 17 and playing summer baseball," said Marshall, who recruited Perucki. "RJ has always had real good hands. When I say that, I mean he has a real good feel for getting the barrel of the bat to the ball. He has good hands on his swing. He has developed and become a very good hitter.
"One of the pieces of the puzzle for him has been his willingness to go out and play a lot of baseball in the summer. He's been out in Virginia the last two summers, and probably got an extra 400 at-bats over two summers. He made that commitment."
Perucki wants to coach when his playing career ends
Perucki, who throws and bats right-handed, injured his left shoulder as a freshman during the 2010 season and was granted a medical redshirt year by the NCAA. He came back to play shortstop in 2011 and 2012 before moving to third base midway through this season.
Perucki credits associate head coach Jim Blair for helping him become a better hitter.
"I've never really been a big hitter," Perucki said. "Coach Blair came in and really helped me with my swing. He helped me repeat my swing as best that I can, take the right swings as much as I can. He put me in a great position to hit.
"I kind of had an unexpected year. I didn't expect to hit this well. I just go up to the plate with as much confidence as anybody could ever have."
Perucki grew up in Tampa, Fla., and moved to Tomball with his family in the summer before his eighth-grade year.
"I'm trying to play baseball as long as I can," Perucki said. "When I'm told I can't play anymore, I want to be a coach."
Perucki has been playing baseball since he was 4.
"I just love the game," he said. "You come out here on the field and you feel great."