A new perspective: Hanks interested in how Mavs play as underdogs

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Chris Hanks, right, and the Mesa State baseball team have been the favorites in the RMAC tournament the past five years. This year, however, Brett Nigbur, left, and the Mavs are the No. 3 seed.

Mesa State has played in the RMAC baseball tournament as the favorite the past five years.

Coach Chris Hanks is kind of looking forward to seeing how the Mavericks do from the middle of the pack.

“I told the guys we want to really try to play loose and have fun this weekend,” Hanks said. “We’ve been through enough of these tournaments and when we haven’t done well is when we’re trying to hold on to something.

“I told them, ‘We’ve got nothing to hold onto, just go play. Play to keep improving, keep doing things better and be in position to make the regional and then really take off.’ “

Hanks and the Mavericks (32-16) will see how they do from the No. 3 seed starting at 10 this morning (MDT) when they play Metro State (21-21) in the first round of the tournament at Memorial Field in Kearney, Neb.

Mesa State went 3-5 against the Roadrunners this season, with some, shall we say, interesting games along the way.

In February, the Mavericks scored 12 runs in the first inning against Metro on the way to a 33-7 win after losing a pair of two-run games and a third by eight runs.

Then in mid-April, the Mavericks were down 9-0 in the top of the ninth inning, but scored 12 runs to win 12-11. That win was sandwiched around a pair of close losses, and the series wrapped up with a 15-3 Mesa win.

“That’s two of the best teams in the league playing right out of the gates,” Hanks said. “We’ll have to be sharp.”

Mesa State will send out its sharpest pitcher this season, Chris Shea (8-3) against Metro. The senior right-hander is 0-1 with one no-decision against Metro this season, but is coming off an eight-strikeout game last weekend against Colorado Christian.

“He gives us the best chance to win overall,” Hanks said. “He’s been steady, his approach at practice has been good and that’s led to his consistency. He’s given us a chance to win every time we play.”

Kyle Davis will probably get the start in the Mavs’ second game, but Hanks is leaving the rest of the rotation, which will include Derek Evans and Scott Bachman, open, depending on the opponent.

“We’ll see who we’re playing and go back and take a look to see who’s been the most effective against them and decide who gives us the best chance,” Hanks said.

If the Mavericks win, they play at 6 p.m. on Thursday against the winner between second-seeded Nebraska-Kearney and No. 5 CSU-Pueblo. If they lose, they play the loser between the Lopers and ThunderWolves at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

The championship game of the six-team, double-elimination tournament is set for noon on Saturday.

It’s a quick turnaround from the end of the regular season, especially during the final week of class, with the players trying to finish projects and preparing for finals.

Hanks has long lobbied for a four-team conference tournament, pushing the start back another day, but knows it’ll never pass. He preaches to his players to be prepared to miss class and to get projects done early. Some heed his words, some don’t.

“The guys who have been taking care of business all spring are operating with relatively low stress right now,” Hanks said. “The guys that have procrastinated and put things off are feeling a little stress, but they’ve done it to themselves. It’s the nature of the thing.”

After scoring 58 runs and banging out 70 hits in a three-game sweep of Colorado Christian last week, the Mavs are a confident bunch at the plate.

However, that confidence is tempered by the knowledge they’ll be facing better pitching this week.

“I think overall we’re playing pretty well,” Hanks said. “We’ve improved as the season’s gone along and we will see better pitching than at Christian.

“Confidence is good, that’s important. This team has the makings to do good things if they can be consistent. That’s the biggest problem we’ve had.”


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