Tourney-focused Mavs face Regis in RMAC opener
Since 2000, Mesa State College has won the RMAC regular-season baseball championship six times.
In that same timespan, though, the Mavericks have won the tournament title only twice, in 2001 and 2006.
“One of our primary goals going into this year was to start the process of becoming a better tournament team than we’ve been in the past,” coach Chris Hanks said. “We’ve been in a lot of tournaments, we know some of the pitfalls, some of the mistakes we’ve made as coaches, the approaches we’ve taken as a team.
“If you can be a good tournament team, you really have a chance, because that’s what it all comes down to at the end, tournaments.”
The Mavericks (29-19) will see what kind of tournament team they are starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when they play Regis (22-25) in the final game of the first round of the RMAC tournament at Suplizio Field.
New Mexico Highlands (25-24) is on a six-game winning streak entering Wednesday’s opener at noon against top-seeded Nebraska-Kearney (32-15), the regular-season champion. At 3:30 p.m., Metro State (29-15) plays CSU-Pueblo (27-23) for the fifth straight game.
Mesa split a four-game series in Denver with the Rangers this season. The Mavericks won the season series against the other four teams, the only club in the tournament not to have lost a series against the field.
Lefty Jared Christensen (6-3) is projected to start the opener for the Mavericks, with Nolan Snell (5-4) tentatively set to start the second game. Dylan Evans (6-3) would be the third-game starter, followed by Tim Moore (3-2).
Hanks said his pitching rotation will depend on first, if Christensen is ready to go after a short turnaround from his start Friday night, and on matchups.
“If we start Christensen, people will say we saved our No. 1,” Hanks said. “All you have to do is look at the stats. Jared Christensen is our best pitcher. We’ve been pitching Nolan in the one spot, but Jared throws lower (number of) pitches.”
Snell throws a lot of pitches and has walked 51 batters this season, the most on the team, but has also struck out an RMAC-leading 87. Christensen has fanned 50 and walked only 16. Snell’s stamina is more suited to nine-inning games, one reason he threw the first game of the series.
Christensen leads the RMAC with a 3.07 ERA, with Snell second at 3.79. Teams hit an RMAC-low .220 against Snell and .262 against Christensen (second).
The tournament features one of the most even fields in years, with the teams taking turns beating one another all spring.
The RMAC tournament champion receives an automatic berth in the Central Region tournament. If a team other than Mesa State, Nebraska-Kearney or Metro (ranked 3, 4 and 6, respectively, with another poll Wednesday) wins, it could cost one of those teams an at-large bid, depending on what happens in the Northern Sun Conference tourney in Mankato, Minn. St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato are ranked 1-2 in the Central Region, with Winona State No. 5.
“We’re going to try to win the sucker for sure, but the biggest thing is to try to keep yourself in good regional standing,” Hanks said. “It is important. The winner gets the automatic qualifier, and we want to try to keep one of the non-ranked teams from winning it, because that dislodges one of the ranked teams. If a non-ranked team from each conference wins, (the teams ranked) five and six are (out).”
Hanks wants to be one of the teams playing Saturday, which will tell him the Mavs took their goal seriously.
“When the season begins, the only sure-fire way into the regional tournament, before you’ve played a game, is to win the conference tournament,” Hanks said. “That’s the guarantee. There’s no other guarantee.”