SPORTS STORIES OF 2010: Addition of Dominguez helps Mavs win first hoops playoff game
Everything came together better than even Jim Heaps could have imagined last basketball season.
The Mesa State College men’s coach had the right mix of fifth-year seniors, junior college transfers, role players — and one special senior transfer.
That combination resulted in the Mavericks’ best season since joining the NCAA Division II ranks. They won the RMAC West Division, the RMAC regular-season championship and entered the Central Region tournament as the No. 2 seed.
A first-round loss to CSU-Pueblo in the RMAC Shootout — Mesa State’s fifth straight early exit — spoiled Mesa’s chance to host the regional tournament.
Instead, they traveled to Mankato, Minn., where they won their first-round game 73-68 over Winona (Minn.) State. It was the first NCAA playoff victory in school history, and the Mavs’ season was voted the No. 6 local sports story of 2010.
Michael Dominguez transferred to Mesa State from Florida International University for his senior year and provided the final piece that took the Mavericks to the national tournament.
Dominguez, now playing professional basketball in Mexico, was the RMAC and Central Region player of the year, the Mavs’ first NCAA Division II All-American, and played in the Division II All-Star game.
Before all that, though, he averaged 21.6 points a game, shot 52 percent from the field, 82 percent from the free-throw line and averaged nearly 31⁄2 assists per game.
It wasn’t just his stats, though, that made Dominguez such an integral part of the team.
It was his ability to fit into Mesa State’s system, which is about as far from having a “star” system as possible, and still become a star.
“A lot had to do with the team,” Dominguez said after his final game. “They made it a lot easier, the coaches and the community. I wish I had four years here, but it was a good one year. I’m glad I was a part of it and they accepted me.
“I was able to make friends I’m probably going to have forever.”
One of those was senior guard Jase Herl, who, with Dominguez formed a 1-2 punch on the perimeter that became impossible to stop, with Herl averaging a dozen points and nearly 41⁄2 assists per game.
Add in transfer post Lance Fite’s defensive toughness and 8.5 points a game, Justin Ashbaugh’s determination to come back from two knee operations and two steady senior point guards, Aaron Markham and Ryan Mortensen, plus scoring off the bench from Michael Bear, Brian Kenshalo and Sean Flohr, and Heaps knew he had a special group.
They won their first nine games, then, after their first loss, rattled off 11 more wins in a 20-1 start, 14-0 in the RMAC.
Herl missed three games with a severely sprained ankle, and the Mavericks lost all three road games, ending their quest to sweep the conference schedule.
Once in the regional tournament, though, the Mavericks put on a show. Their bench led a come-from-behind win against Winona, with Kenshalo scoring 19 points and Flohr 14. Mesa’s bench outscored Winona’s bench 41-6.
The next night, Dominguez played the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 41 points, 22 in the first half. Down the stretch, though, Augustana’s size inside was too much in a 95-84 loss.
Mesa State finished 23-6, a season Heaps won’t soon forget.
“This was a special year for me and these guys are as good of people off the court as they are on it,” he said after the Augustana loss.
“I told them in the locker room I got into coaching to have an influence on people and it always amazes me how much of an influence they have on me, I think a lot more so than what I have on them.”