Lack of clutch hits costly as Mavs swept
It was there for the taking — several times.
The RMAC Mountain Division title will come down to four games — a pair of doubleheaders today at Suplizio Field in Grand Junction and Rawlings Field in Pueblo.
Mesa State let an opportunity to overtake Metro State slip away not once, but twice, Friday, losing a doubleheader to Colorado School of Mines 9-6 in 11 innings and 5-3. Across the state, CSU-Pueblo was sweeping Metro State 8-5, 11-7, but with Mesa’s two losses, the Roadrunners take a half-game lead into the final day of the regular season.
“They out-competed us,” Mesa State coach Chris Hanks said of the Orediggers (17-29, 14-22), whose season will end today. “They fought harder with two strikes.
“They’re more competitive than us. They have a little better competitive spirit than us right now. That’s been one of our issues all year, we’re an inconsistent team.”
The University of Nebraska-Kearney clinched the regular-season RMAC title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament by sweeping Regis 5-4 and 4-3.
The Mavericks (27-19, 24-14 RMAC) need to win one more game than Metro today to win the division and claim the No. 2 seed in the tournament, which begins Wednesday at Suplizio Field.
If they don’t start hitting with runners in scoring position, it’s not likely to happen.
Mesa stranded 20 runners in the doubleheader, 12 in scoring position. They left a whopping 16 on base in the opener and lost despite hitting six doubles, one triple and one home run.
“We need somebody to hit when there’s a little pressure on,” Hanks said. “Great, the guys came in and made a run, showed some fight there, but it’s the same old story; we leave runners on.”
The Mavericks left the bases loaded in the third and 10th innings in the first game, with the Orediggers opening the door in the 10th after Mesa State rallied for three runs in the ninth to tie the game.
They had a chance to win it in the ninth, but Ryan Shelton was thrown out at the plate on Jeff Popick’s bouncer to short with the infield drawn and Colton Little popped out to second to send the game to extra innings.
“I was going to try to squeeze in the run with one out and I couldn’t get my hitter to pick up a sign,” Hanks said.
Shelton’s RBI triple scored Colton Schoelkopf with the tying run after Greg Anderson led off the inning with a solo home run to right and Dustin Fackrell doubled and scored on Joe Schmidtbauer’s base hit.
With one out, Mines brought the infield in and Popick hit a slow bouncer to short.
“I didn’t know how many chances we were going to get. I told (Shelton) to go on contact if he read a big hop out of the box,” Hanks said. “I wouldn’t say it was a big hop, but it wasn’t a one-hop ground ball. You’ve gotta make them play catch and throw it on line.”
In the second game, the Orediggers’ Blake Dunham (4-7) threw a gem. He was perfect for three innings (he needed only four pitches to retire the Mavs in the third) and allowed a double to Box leading off the fourth.
Until the seventh, that was it for base runners for the Mavericks. Box stole third with one out, but was left there.
Jared Christensen (6-3) gave up three runs in the fifth inning on four straight hits and a passed ball, and Mines added two unearned runs in the top of the seventh.
Those proved to be the difference after Dunham started to tire in the bottom of the seventh and the Mavericks rallied for three runs.
Zac Barger hit a pinch-hit double off the wall after Anderson walked, and Schmidtbauer singled home one run. With two out, Ian McKnight fouled off several pitches before lining a single up the middle to score Schmidtbauer. Quintin Haynes followed with an RBI single and Ken Evanson was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Box, though, struck out.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hanks said. “In 18 years of coaching, never seen anything like this.”
A season that started with high expectations and a prediction by the conference coaches for an RMAC championship for Mesa State never materialized.
The Mavericks could never put together a winning streak, and Friday were knocked out of the RMAC tournament in a 7-4 loss to Western New Mexico in Golden.
Mesa State’s season ended 23-23. Ranked No. 10 in this week’s Central Region rankings, the Mavericks most likely needed to reach the championship game to move into the top eight and receive a bid to their third straight regional tournament.
Regis defeated Adams State 10-9 in the winners bracket semifinal and plays either the Grizzlies or Colorado Mines today for the championship.
Mines beat top-seeded Metro State 9-0 in an elimination game after Regis dropped the Roadrunners into the losers bracket with a 2-0 win.
Mines then shut out Western New Mexico 5-0 to get to the losers bracket final today. The winner of that game would need to beat Regis twice to win the RMAC title.
Mesa State was tied 1-1 with the Mustangs heading into the bottom of the fifth after Lauren Cross singled and eventually scored on an error.
Ashly Eichenberger, though, hit a bases-loaded double to left-center in the bottom of the fifth off Sara Jordan (15-13) in a four-run inning.
The Mavericks got two runs back in the sixth. Taylor Gross doubled to right-center and with two out, Gabi Parra reached on a fielding error by first baseman Kale Gahn, then advanced to second on a throwing error by Eichenberger, which allowed Gross to score. Cross followed with a base hit up the middle, scoring Parra, to cut the lead to 5-3.
The Mustangs, though, added two runs in the bottom of the sixth and held off the Mavs in the seventh.
Megan Smith led off with a single to left and pinch runner Lindsay Drayer scored on Lita Romero’s two-out triple to right. With runners at the corners after Gross walked, Dani Vallie took a called third strike to end the game.
Cross and Smith each went 2 for 3 for Mesa, which returns all but three players, but they’re key losses — Jordan, Parra and pinch runner/outfielder Windi Serrano.
Jordan allowed seven runs on 11 hits, walked three and struck out one in her final game. She pitched all three tournament games for the Mavericks, going 1-2 and finishing her career with 43 wins in three years.