Digging a hole
Loss to Mines leaves Mesa with no room for error at RMAC Tournament
Colorado Mesa University’s baseball team made conference history during the regular season, but it didn’t matter in the conference tournament opener.
NCAA Division II’s second-ranked Mavericks, who set a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record for highest winning percentage, were stymied by Colorado School of Mines freshman Christian Rooney again.
The right-hander, who no-hit Mesa for 5 1/3 innings last weekend, shut out the Mavericks for 7 2/3 innings Thursday night as the Orediggers rallied for a 6-4 victory in the first round of the RMAC Tournament at Suplizio Field.
Rooney was so effective, the Mavericks’ frustration boiled over. Coach Chris Hanks was ejected in to bottom of the ninth inning after arguing with home-plate umpire Dennis Whelan about Whelan’s check-swing, third-strike call on Erik Kozel. Whelan didn’t check with first-base umpire Robert Wilson.
Mines (22-25) plays New Mexico Highlands at 3:30 p.m. today. Mesa (41-8) plays an elimination game against Metro State (20-26) at noon.
“I think our swings got a little big,” Mesa senior Braden Box said. “We’ve been hitting it well. We’ve been seeing it well. We took too big of swings, and it got us. Maybe this is the motivation we needed.”
The Orediggers had no problem finding motivation after Mesa rallied to spoil Rooney’s perfect game and win last Saturday in the regular-season finale.
“We definitely felt like if we play good, we could hang with them,” Mines coach Jerod Goodale said. “Once you get into the postseason, records don’t matter. We try to preach to our guys they may beat us seven or eight times out of 10, the one game in postseason is huge. That’s all that matters.”
Rooney was available to pitch because the tournament was delayed one day because of Wednesday’s rain.
“We really felt like we caught a break with the weather (Wednesday) and getting another day,” Goodale said. “The guy we brought in got an extra day’s rest. That was a huge break for us. We were going to go right to him if our starter got in trouble early.”
Mines starter Matt Brown gave up a two-run home run to Mitch Corwin in the first inning, then two more runs in the second on back-to-back singles by Kozel and Box for a 4-1 Mesa lead.
That’s when Goodale went to Rooney, and he was ready.
Rooney (4-5) retired six consecutive batters before giving up a walk. He went the rest of the way, limiting Mesa to four hits and two walks, and he struck out seven.
“We came out and put up runs,” Box said. “They brought in that kid, and we struggled against him. We were right there the whole game. It just so happened to fall their way tonight.”
The Orediggers slowly chipped away, scoring two runs in the fifth with the aid of a couple of Mesa errors.
Shortstop Nate Robertson threw high trying to get Jordan Williams out on a grounder to first base. Then Robertson threw wide to Box at second, trying to get a force out on Charlie Basil’s ground ball. Williams advanced to third. Zach Bothwell put down a bunt, but Mesa starting pitcher Nolan Snell mishandled it, allowing Williams to score to cut Mesa’s lead to one, 4-3, with one out.
Hanks pulled Snell, who allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits with four walks and eight strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
Garrett Schirmacher greeted Mesa reliever Cody Lahman with a run-scoring single to tie the game 4-4. Derek Skrdlant attempted a bunt, but popped it up behind home plate. Kozel chased it down for the second out, then Lahman struck out Bobby Egeberg to get out of the inning.
Lahman got some help from the defense in the seventh. Robertson pulled down a line drive for one out, then Tamatoa Demello threw a dart to third base to get the lead runner on a base hit.
“I think the kids feed off Christian when he’s throwing,” Goodale said. “They find a way to score runs. We’re not set up for a long ball or big innings. We try to manufacture runs any way we can.”
Mines took the lead in the eighth when Nate Olinger’s triple went over the head of center fielder Demello, who initially came in on the ball. Olinger scored on a groundout for a 6-4 lead.
Mesa sophomore Dakota Behr took the loss, allowing two runs on one hit in 1 1/3 innings.
CSU-Pueblo 4, Metro State 1: The ThunderWolves’ three runs in the first inning were enough for Jeremiah Struble.
The All-RMAC pitcher (8-3) limited the Roadrunners to one run on six hits and struck out six in a complete game.
Mario Sanchez drove in two runs and scored one in the first. He was 2 for 4 with two RBI. Wade Beauvais had a run-scoring single in the eighth.
Metro State’s Jeff Levett singled home a run in the third.
Regis 11, N.M. Highlands 4: The Rangers’ No. 2 through 5 hitters each drove in at least two runs in a rout.
Jon Shoutta was 2 for 5 with three RBI, Cody Hastings was 4 for 4 with two RBI for Regis, and starting pitcher Steven Brault (8-3) allowed two runs on five hits and struck out eight in eight innings.
Highlands starter Oscar Almeida (6-2) allowed seven runs on eight hits in four innings.