Mesa, Highlands renew diamond rivalry
You never know what might happen when Colorado Mesa University and New Mexico Highlands University meet on the baseball field.
They’ve participated in everything from brawls to late-night, extra-inning affairs in postseason tournaments.
No matter what has taken place, the two programs usually play for first place in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and often meet in the NCAA Division II regional tournament.
One of the two programs has either won the RMAC regular season or tournament championship the past eight years. They have combined for 14 NCAA tournament appearances in the past 12 years.
“Highlands is going to be good,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “We know that. There’s history in this series. It’s always a hard-fought deal. We expect nothing less.”
The No. 17 Mavericks (15-5, 9-1 RMAC) host Highlands (14-8, 10-2 RMAC) in a four-game series beginning with a nine-inning game at 5:30 p.m. today at Suplizio Field. The teams play two seven-inning games Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m., and finish the series with a nine-inning game at noon Sunday.
Colorado Mesa leads the Mountain Division by two games over Regis, and the Cowboys lead the Plains Division by three games over CSU-Pueblo.
Both teams, as is customary, have potent offenses.
Colorado Mesa is second in the RMAC in runs scored (147) and RBI (128) and third in batting average (.325). Garrett Carpenter is on a seven-game hitting streak for the Mavericks since moving to outfield/relief pitcher this season.
Highlands leads the RMAC in runs (168) and RBI (150). It is second in batting average (.330).
The Cowboys have five players on the RMAC preseason all-conference team, including Kyle Davis. The senior designated hitter is hitting .333 with two home runs and 20 RBI.
“They’ve been like us, they’ve been an offensive program,” Hanks said. “They’re going to hit. Coach (Steve) Jones does a great job. Their kids will want to beat us.”
The Mavericks, who are second in the RMAC with a 4.12 ERA, rely on their defense to quiet opponents’ bats. The Mavericks lead the RMAC in fielding percentage (.969).
Highlands has a 6.24 ERA, but it has a veteran staff.
Four pitchers have combined to start 20 of the Cowboys’ 22 games. Senior Chris Prokupek (3-1, 5.86 ERA) is an RMAC preseason all-conference pick. Closer Oscar Almeida, another preseason all-conference selection, leads the RMAC with five saves. He is 3-0 with a 3.94 ERA.
Davis and Almeida are on the Tino Martinez Award watch list. The award goes to the NCAA Division II player of the year.
The Mavericks have three players on the list: pitchers Aaron Corwin and Nolan Snell and shortstop Braden Box.
Snell (3-1, 4.03 ERA) is scheduled to start today’s opener. Matt Williams (1-1, 3.27) and Joey Danner (4-0, 2.05) will start Saturday, and Kyle Davis (1-0, 2.45) is slated to start the series finale Sunday for Mesa. Indeed, each team has a Kyle Davis.
“You can throw out the conference implications, regional implications,” Hanks said. “I talked to Coach Jones on the phone. We said, ‘Let’s have some good ball games.’ They should be entertaining and fun games for fans to watch.
“All things aside, we’re going to have good competition this weekend.”