Senior Spotlight: Comet Baseball

Senior baseball players Ryan Vera (left) and Dylan Hughley (right). Photos courtesy of UTD Athletics

At first glance, there is little similarity between Dylan Hughley and Ryan Vera: one studies computer science, the other business administration, and even on the baseball diamond, Hugley is right-handed while Vera throws with his left. But both have a gift that unites them — their talent for throwing the baseball.

The duo will lead UTD’s starting rotation for the 2024 baseball season. After graduation, Hugley, a business admin senior, plans to work in the insurance field. Vera, a computer science graduate student, is uncertain if he wants to pursue cybersecurity or machine learning. But both are clear on one thing: in their last season in the American Southwest Conference, they intend to compete for the championship.

“We are a championship team,” Hugley said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. The expectation is to go win a national championship … our expectation is to compete for the championship of the NCAA for DIII. And I think the older guys this year are ready to take on that challenge and convey to the younger guys, ‘hey, we’re not here to mess around. We’re here to go win a championship.’”

Ryan Vera was on the Comet baseball team during its back-to-back ASC championship runs in 2021 and 2022. He said that participating in the playoffs was the highlight of his baseball career at UTD.

“Once you get that deep in the playoffs, and you have a chance to win it all, everything becomes much more exciting,” Vera said. “On the mound, you’re more creative, you’re much more into every little detail of the game. It’s just fun to go out there and compete hard and know that you have a really good shot of winning.”

Hugley, who transferred to UTD in 2022, also had a chance to play with many of the fixtures of those winning teams in 2021 and 2022. Carter Cochrane, Orion Drymond and Ramon Garza are all players Hugley cites as influential in helping him learn how to be a part of UTD’s “championship culture” – lessons he now hopes to pass onto the next generation of UTD baseball.

“We’ve been trying to pass that down by making connections with the younger guys and making them feel like they’re a part of the family,” Hugley said. “Especially with these transfers that we’ve got from schools within our conference — they’ve known us for a couple of years, and they’ve played against us. And obviously, they wanted to join a championship culture, which is what I believe we have here at UTD.”

And, in addition to setting an example for the team in 2024, Hugley and Vera hope to make their impact felt on the field. Each pitches with a unique style, refined over their years of college baseball. Vera said Hugley is a pitcher who thrives on attacking the hitter, an approach that leads to consistent success.

“He’s a guy who embodies the mentality of throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters and not being afraid,” Vera said. “It’s easy to say ‘don’t be afraid,’ but he is someone who really is not scared to throw any pitch in any location in any count…he could throw his weakest pitch to [a batter’s] strongest spot and do it with all of the confidence in the world.”

Perhaps some of that confidence comes from Hugley’s piercing experience. Hugley attributes much of his success to the baseball program at TCS post-grad academy, where the 6’0 righty spent two years – one immediately after high school, and another to rehab from surgery after tearing his UCL. Hugley said the program, which helps prospective recruits play a full year of college-intensity baseball without losing their NCAA eligibility, revived his ability to play baseball.

“I don’t think I’d play anywhere at this level – DIII, DII, or JUCO – if I didn’t go to TCS first.”

Vera’s big-league pitching comparison, according to his teammates, is Joe Ryan, the Minnesota Twins RHP who broke out in 2022. When asked to sum up what distinguishes the 5’10’’ lefty on the mound, Hugley was concise.

“Vera’s a dawg. That guy works harder than anyone on the team, and then he goes out there and just gets the job done.”

The southpaw often works on thinking more like a hitter than a pitcher, something Vera said that he picked up from practicing with former teammate Garza. During practice, he may ask a teammate who worked a walk or made hard contact during an at-bat against him what they were seeing at the plate, or talk to the hitters about what counts they are looking for a specific pitches in. After collecting input from his teammates, the ASC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete will incorporate that feedback into his pitching strategy to stay one step ahead of the opposing batters in his next outing.

Together, Hugley and Vera will headline an extremely talented team of Comets poised to capture its fourth – and final – ASC championship in 2024. Head baseball coach Shane Shewmake said that this year’s team is as deep a roster as UTD has ever fielded. Combine that with the team’s championship aspirations, and when the baseball season begins at home against Texas Lutheran on Feb. 16, it will kick off a semester of excitement. Many of the games will begin with either Hugley or Vera on the mound, and they would love the support of Comets in the stands along the way.

“It would be awesome to have students to come out for the games,” said Vera. “Most of the time it’s just friends and family, but when we hosted the conference tournament in 2021, the stands were packed. That was really exciting, fun to play, and I’d love to see that in my last season here.”

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