Mavs add RMAC tourney title to regular-season conference crown
Colorado Mesa’s baseball team did something Saturday it hasn’t done in quite some time.
The Mavericks captured the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament championship the same year as the regular-season title for the first time since 2006 with a 4-2 victory over CSU-Pueblo at Suplizio Field.
It was Mesa’s third RMAC tournament title in the past 10 years. The Mavericks have won eight regular-season titles in the same time.
“It’s definitely a goal we’ve had throughout the year to finish strong and do well in tournament play,” CMU senior Austin Kaiser said. “This is the first of hopefully three tournaments. To come out and sweep the tournament is a big deal.
“We’re excited that’s how it turned out, but at the same time we have bigger things we want to accomplish. We’re going to work hard this next week to take that next step.”
The seventh-ranked Mavericks (40-10) receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They were ranked first in the South Central Region entering the RMAC tournament and hope to host the regional starting Thursday. The NCAA will announce teams and sites for regionals tonight.
“The goal isn’t to host, the goal is to win, whether that’s on the road or at home,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “I think we earned the right to host, but if we don’t we’re not going to discuss it. We’re going to move forward. Our intent is to be prepared to play next Thursday, wherever that is.”
The ThunderWolves (29-24) hope to receive an at-large bid. They are ranked eighth in the region.
The Mavericks improved to 27-0 at Suplizio Field this season.
“I think the big thing is we’ve had home-field advantage here,” pitcher Kyle Davis said. “We’ve been great at home this year because of our fans and our routine.”
Davis (7-0) did his part.
The senior limited CSU-Pueblo to one run on eight hits and struck out five in seven innings. Mesa lost to the ThunderWolves earlier this season when Davis started, although he didn’t get the decision.
“When we were down in Pueblo, I gave up four runs in the first inning, but I was able to zone in and shut them down for six innings after that,” Davis said. “I was feeling more confident coming into today after that.”
He rarely ran into trouble and the defense helped him out.
After striking out the first two batters in the first inning, Davis walked Dominick Bregar, but catcher Austin Wallingford picked him off first base to end the inning.
“I would credit Wallingford for that,” Davis said. “We got the first two outs, then I walk the guy. Wallingford picked him off first. After that, it was smooth sailing once you get a rhythm and you have great defense like that behind you.”
As usual with Davis, he got stronger as the game went on. He retired seven consecutive batters from the fifth to the seventh innings.
“We pitched Kyle on Sundays all year long for this specific reason today,” Hanks said. “That was by design. He’s a guy we want to throw on Sundays because that’s when big things happen.”
Tyler Ehlers and Tyler Dunnington finished it. They combined to give up one run on three hits in two innings.
Dunnington struck out three batters in 1 2/3 innings for his first save with Mesa.
Davis had a lead to work with almost immediately.
Colorado Mesa loaded the bases in the first inning. Sergio Valenzuela was hit by a pitch and Garrett Carpenter singled. Austin Kaiser put down a bunt to move the runners, and beat the throw for a hit. Nate Robertson grounded into a double play, but Valenzuela scored for a 1-0 lead. Derrick Garcia singled home Carpenter for a 2-0 lead.
Carpenter led off the third with a single and moved into scoring position on Kaiser’s bunt, which he nearly beat out again. Robertson followed with a run-scoring single for a 3-0 lead.
“Any time you can score first, you’ve automatically taken the momentum off the bat,” Kaiser said. “With this team, a lot of times, it’s the rest of the game. It’s getting that confidence we’re good, let’s have fun and play some ball.”
CSU-Pueblo got the run back in the fourth when Evan Kenebrew singled home Mike Wagner.
Mesa scored a big insurance run in the fifth. Kaiser led off with a double, stole second and scored on Jordan Liester’s single to left field for a 4-1 lead.
Austin Mascorro led off the eighth against Tyler Ehlers with a single. Mascorro scored on Scott Hoyt’s single, but the ThunderWolves left two runners on base. CSU-Pueblo stranded eight runners in the game.
CSU-Pueblo starter Jesse Bristow (5-6) gave up four runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. He pitched one inning in relief against Mesa on Friday.
Mesa had five players make the RMAC All-Tournament team. Kaiser was selected the tournament MVP. Nate Robertson, Wallingford, Matt Delay and Davis also made the team.
Notes: Colorado Mesa senior pitcher Joey Danner threw a light toss session Saturday. He injured his arm in the regular-season series finale against Colorado School of Mines and didn’t pitch in the RMAC tournament. Hanks said Danner will increase his intensity today and the Mavs’ training staff will check his status Monday.
Third baseman Tony Audino was out with a leg injury. Hanks said Audino was cleared to play Saturday, but Mesa chose to give his leg more time to heal.