Senior's walk-off home run lifts Mavs to sweep of Mines
Erik Kozel has had other walk-off hits in his baseball career, but never a walk-off home run — until now.
The Colorado Mesa senior delivered a walk-off home run over the left field wall Saturday at Suplizio Field to lift the fourth-ranked Mavericks to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Colorado School of Mines. Mesa (41-7, 35-3 RMAC) won the first game of the doubleheader 12-0.
“I was stunned,” Kozel said. “I was surprised, excited and everything in between.
“It felt like I was almost in a dream a little bit. I was rounding third base and saw everybody (jumping out of the dugout), and it hit me: We just won this game.”
It was a surprise because Mines starting pitcher Christian Rooney was doing something to the Mavericks that doesn’t happen. The freshman, who CMU coach Chris Hanks recruited, didn’t allow a single base runner, much less a hit, until the sixth inning. Rooney chose Mines for its engineering program, Hanks said.
“He was dropping his slider in for a strike,” Hanks said of Rooney. “He would change the velocity on his fastball and would work off the plate. That was giving us trouble. He would work away, then come in. He was doing a good job of pitching.
“Our guys were pressing a little bit, so we called them together. ‘We’re going to have to win close games, so solve the problem. Don’t get tight. Shorten your swings, put it in play, let’s get a runner on.’ “
Rooney was five outs away from completing the perfect game when he nicked Colton Little with a pitch. Tamatoa Demello followed with a single to break up the no-hitter, but Rooney pitched out of the jam with a 3-0 lead intact.
“I think the moment it changed was when Tama (Demello) got that base hit and broke up (the no-hitter),” Kozel said. “He had a great at-bat and got a hit. That’s what we needed. That’s exactly what Coach Hanks said. Get that first hit and get it out of the way. As soon as that happens, good things will happen.”
Austin Kaiser worked the count full before drawing a walk to lead off the seventh, and Nate Robertson followed with a double, putting runners at second and third. Jake Kluge, with his family in town to watch the game, hit a three-run home run into the parking lot to force extra innings. Rooney allowed three runs on four hits and struck out five in seven innings.
“I wasn’t really worried at all during the game,” Kluge said of the Mavs trailing. “We have so many guys that can come up in clutch situations.
“When I got up there, the guys that got up before me were big. My home run means nothing if they don’t get on. I was looking for a pitch because I was ahead in the count. He threw what I was looking for. I put a pretty good swing on it. The rest kind of took care of itself.”
Eric Shannon (1-4) relieved Rooney in the eighth and gave up the home run to Kozel for the loss.
Mesa’s Aaron Corwin (4-2) picked up the win with two innings of relief.
The Mavericks’ rally also saved Kyle Davis from taking his first career loss. The senior pitched well enough to win, allowing two runs on four hits in four innings.
Joey Danner pitched well in the first game of the doubleheader after a rough outing last week. The junior (8-2) pitched six shutout innings, giving up six hits and one walk, and he hit one batter.
“After last week, that was a little better,” Danner said. “It’s a huge relief off my shoulders to get back out there.”
He didn’t make it out of the first inning last week, giving up four runs on six hits in an 8-4 loss to Regis.
“I didn’t think I threw the ball bad last week; they were putting good swings on the ball and hitting everything,” Danner said. “I worked with Coach (Jeff) Rodgers all week, working out the kinks.
“I’m not where I want to be, but today was definitely a huge step for me.”
Mesa’s Tyler Dunnington, Matt Allen and Dustin Robirtis each pitched an inning of relief without giving up a hit or run.
Kevin Mitchell, Justin Rosales and Mitch Corwin provided the majority of the Mavs’ offense. Mitchell hit a three-run home run, Corwin had a solo shot, and Rosales was 2 for 4 with three RBI.