Local players in UHV lineup for season opener
Feb. 8, 2018 at 10:21 p.m.
Zak Vela wondered if his baseball career would come to an end after his senior season at Victoria East.
Instead, Vela will be starting in center field when UHV opens the season at 6 p.m. Friday against Trinity University at Riverside Stadium.
"It was kind of last-minute notice at the end of my senior year," Vela said. "I didn't have any offers, but I wanted to play baseball somewhere, and I knew this was my best option to play. I contacted coach (Terry) Puhl and had a little tryout."
Puhl liked what he saw from Vela and was even more impressed with his performance during the fall.
"Zak can do a lot of things," Puhl said. "He's a strong young man. He's smart and he's coachable. Those type of guys, you can't put them on the bench. If I get them here, you've got to play those guys. He's a guy who could be a really good player as a junior and senior."
Vela admits there have been some adjustments going from high school to the college level.
"The schoolwork, balancing it with college baseball and more hours," he said. "A lot of it is on your own and time management as well."
But Vela was able to handle the workload in the classroom while earning a spot in the starting lineup with his play on the field.
"During the fall, I was trying to make myself known," Vela said. "I wanted to let myself and my teammates know I was here to play and find a starting spot. I'm really excited to get back on Riverside and play. I thought last year would be my last year to ever play on that field. I'm looking forward to playing under the lights and in front of the crowd."
Vela won't be the only local player in the Jaguars' starting lineup against the NCAA Division III Tigers, who had a 28-16 record last season.
Victoria West graduate Garrett Harrison will be starting at third base.
Harrison spent a year at Our Lady of the Lake before coming to UHV from Blinn College in Bryan.
"I had conversations with coach Puhl over the summer," Harrison said. "He told me if I ever wanted to get back on the field, he would give me an opportunity to play, and I took it and ran with it."
Puhl has liked what he's seen from Harrison, who will be a sophomore eligibility-wise.
"Garrett's done very well," Puhl said. "He's a steady hitter - probably hit No. 2 hole for us. He's, in my opinion, a very good third baseman."
The Jaguars are anxious to get the season started after finishing 21-24 last season and missing the Red River Athletic Conference tournament.
"You can only practice so much," Puhl said. "After a while, you're pony to post. I expect them to not just flip the switch. I want to see our pitching staff at least go 70-75 pitches, and starters that we use in the field, I want them to be competitive at the plate."
Puhl plans to pitch with junior Jacob Atkinson and senior Ross Bludau from Schulenburg in Game 1.
"We want to build their arms up," Puhl said. "Secondly, I watch how their hitters are competing against each of our pitchers.
"Those eight guys I'm using we're going to whittle that down to four starters by the third or fourth week of the season. The other guys will kind of fill in at middle relief and those kind of roles."
NOTES: Puhl expects Friday's starting lineup to be catcher Chase Almendarez, first baseman Chase Tamez, second baseman Nolan Maciejeski, third baseman Harrison, shortstop Joshua Fonseca, left fielder Nate Letien, center fielder Vela and right fielder Derek Maciejeski.
Puhl said the pitchers for Game 2, which starts at 6 p.m. Saturday, will be Tanner Knowles and El Campo graduate Collin Quinn.
The pitchers for Game 3, which starts at noon Sunday, will be Nathaniel Pena and Victoria East graduate Alec Cruz.
Puhl said Victoria West graduate Jonathan Jimenez will begin the season as the closer.