Bottom of Belmont’s lineup dooms Mesa in Div. II World Series

Mesa State catcher Grant Vickers stretches out to make the catch to force out Belmont Abbey’s Spencer Sobol at home plate in the ninth inning of the Mavs’ 9-2 loss to the Crusaders at the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. photo by WILLIS GLASSGOW/Special to The Daily Sentinel

CARY, N.C. — When the Mesa State College baseball team boarded the plane for the NCAA Division II World Series, there were T-shirts aboard with the date 5-30-09 reserved on them.

The Mavericks, though, were three days shy of playing that day for the national championship.

Belmont Abbey avenged its loss to Mesa State in the tournament opener, defeating the Mavericks 9-2 on Wednesday at the USA Baseball Training Complex. Mesa State (44-15) was eliminated.

“It hurts,” said Mesa catcher Grant Vickers, one of 16 seniors on the team. “It’s great to make history, but the start of the year, we wanted to win a national championship.

To win the regional was expected from us. It hurts. There were a lot of guys that wanted it bad, but we didn’t execute well.”

The 10th-ranked Crusaders (40-25) advanced to face fifth-ranked Lynn (Fla.) University (44-16) at 5 p.m. (MDT) today. Belmont Abbey must defeat the Fighting Knights twice to advance to the championship game Saturday.

“Coming in to this thing and watching the games to this point, I felt like Mesa State is tied for the best team here,” Belmont Abbey coach Kermit Smith said.

“I really felt like that the whole time. They’ve got to be the top program we’ve played against this year.”

For the second consecutive game, the Mavericks’ high-scoring, potent offense was put to sleep. Mesa State, which entered the tournament with a nation-leading .383 average, hit .229 in three games. The Mavs, who were averaging 10.5 runs per game, scored 11 in the tournament.

This time, a left-hander, shut down Mesa State, ending the Mavericks’ season.

Andrew Morton, who threw 12/3 innings of relief against Mesa in the tournament opener, limited the Mavs to two runs on seven hits and struck out nine in a complete-game effort.

“When I came in relief against them, I pitched differently,” Morton said. “You could say the reliever Andrew Morton as opposed to the starter Andrew Morton. I felt like they haven’t seen the starter Andrew Morton. I felt like that was a big plus for us.”

Mesa starter Chris Shea, who pitched the Mavs into the World Series in the Central Regional championship, couldn’t match it.

The junior was pulled in the first inning after giving up a three-run home run to give the Crusaders a 4-0 lead.

“We’ve had several of those this year and our guys have responded,” Mesa State coach Chris Hanks said. “That’s why we went to the bunting game early and get a run on the board and get some positive things happening, but we could never string hits together back-to-back. Some of it was our poor approach to the plate, but a lot of that was their pitcher keeping us off-balance.

“(Morton) had good command of the strike zone. He did a good job pitching ahead and pitching on the edges. We wanted our guys to be aggressive and we didn’t do that. We ended up hitting behind in the count and he continued to command the zone. He pitched a heck of a game.”

Andrew Martinez got the Mavericks on the board with a two-out single to score Marty Rover in the top of the third.

Belmont Abbey cushioned its lead in the fourth when Tyler McKenzie’s triple got past a diving Mike Provencher in right field, bringing home two runs. McKenzie was hit on the previous pitch, but home plate umpire Mark Mayla said McKenzie leaned into the pitch.

Provencher got the Mavericks out of the inning with a double play, catching a fly ball then throwing out McKenzie at home.

The Crusaders added a run in the fifth for a 7-1 lead. Marty Rover, who was 2 for 3, doubled home a run in the seventh, but was left at second. Abbey scored twice in the bottom of the inning.


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