Mavericks get best of Highlands in baseball
Sunday wasn’t a day to empty the bench in a nonconference game.
No, the Mesa State College baseball team took to Suplizio Field with a mission — win the series against seventh-ranked New Mexico Highlands, and in the process, win the best-of-eight season series against the new RMAC champion.
Behind Jeff Popick’s two home runs and five RBI, the Mavericks (27-14) accomplished both goals with a 12-9 victory, winning three of four this weekend and five of eight this season over Highlands (33-9). The teams split the six-game conference series, each going 2-1 at home.
Mesa State, ranked fifth in the Central Region, could move up this week after knocking off the top-ranked team in the region.
Popick went 4 for 5 and scored three runs, and designated hitter Chase Moore went 3 for 5 with three RBI. Popick and Moore both singled home runs in the Mavs’ three-run first inning.
After the Cowboys tied it in the second, Brett Nigbur, who went 10 for 13 in the series, doubled to lead off the third. Popick followed with his first home run of the day and Brian Bellow got a run home with a sacrifice bunt later in the inning.
Nigbur and Popick singled to open the fourth and with one out, Austin Buck lined out to right, scoring Nigbur for a 7-3 lead.
Brad Morgan’s solo home run in the fifth made it 7-4, but Mesa State answered in the sixth.
Nigbur was hit by a pitch and advanced on a balk before Popick hit his seventh home run of the season and Lucas Shaw followed with his fifth home run of the season three pitches later for a 10-4 lead.
The Cowboys’ Jason Carr, who hit three home runs in Saturday’s second game, hit the first of two Sunday to lead off the seventh and added a two-run home run in the eighth, his 18th of the season, which is second in the conference.
That cut Mesa State’s lead to 10-7, but Moore hit his sixth home run of the season to bring in two more runs. Jack Amidei gave up two runs in the ninth, but got Highlands’ Christian Garcia to ground into a force at second with two out.
Derek Riley picked up the win in relief of Ryan Gorzitze, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out two in 42⁄3 innings of work.
After Friday night’s loss, which allowed the Cowboys to clinch the RMAC title, the Mavericks were more disciplined at the plate. In the series opener, they struck out 10 times and left 11 men on base in a 15-8 loss.
Sunday, no Maverick batters struck out and they scored 12 runs on 14 hits, overcoming four errors.
Five of Highlands’ nine losses this season have come against the Mavericks, and three of the Cowboys’ five RMAC losses are to Mesa.
The Mavericks are assured of the No. 3 seed in the RMAC tournament in two weeks, moved into second place in the overall standings ahead of Nebraska-Kearney. The Mavs have a .677 conference winning percentage, the Lopers .621.
The division champions receive the top two seeds in the RMAC tournament based on conference winning percentage.
Highlands is No. 1 out of the Mountain Division, with Nebraska-Kearney claiming the lead in the Plains Division with a three-game sweep of CSU-Pueblo over the weekend.
Kearney, which has won nine straight, is 18-11, Pueblo 15-13, with three games remaining.