Break out the brooms
Mavs complete sweep of Highlands
The Colorado Mesa University baseball team wore the black hats with bravado.
The No. 17 Mavericks, who wear black hats on Sundays when they are going for a series sweep, swept Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival New Mexico Highlands 4-3 at Suplizio Field.
“One of our goals was to focus and play this like a championship Sunday,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “Understanding we’d be in a good ball game and needed to handle our emotions and deal with negative things. I felt we kept our composure well. You want to win good, tough baseball games.”
It was the Mavericks’ second series sweep of the season.
“We’re finally starting to jell together,” Mesa sophomore first baseman Kevin Mitchell said. “All the aspects of the game are starting to work. Our bats were a little slow at the beginning. We weren’t able to get our pitchers the run support they needed earlier in the year. Our bats are starting to pick up, the defense is picking up, and the pitching is staying where it’s at. It’s all starting to come together.”
The Mavericks (19-5, 13-1 RMAC) have won 15 of their past 16 games after a 4-4 start. They are 11-0 at home since losing their home opener and are 11-1 since coach Chris Hanks moved from the third-base coach’s box to the dugout when the Mavs hit.
“I’m enjoying the heck out of it,” Hanks said. “I can think so much clearer. With changes, I can talk to players. I can look in their eyes down the dugout and get a feel for who’s engaged and who’s not.”
The Mavericks took a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
Erik Kozel led off with a bunt single and advanced to third base on an errant pickoff attempt. Garrett Carpenter followed with a single to left field for a 1-0 lead. Highlands got a double play, but Nate Robertson reached base, and Kevin Mitchell followed with his second home run of the series for a 3-0 lead.
“He left a fastball up,” Mitchell said. “I was in put-the-ball-in-play mode, and he left one up for me. I’ll take that any day.”
Highlands starter Chris Prokupek settled in, spreading out five hits through the next six innings. He allowed four runs on nine hits and struck out six in seven innings for the loss.
“We knew (Sunday) would be tough because the Prokupek kid started the year as their No. 1 and gave us difficulty last year,” Hanks said. “We knew it would be a one- or two-run ballgame and they would fight hard. They’ll be better at the end than they are now.”
The Cowboys (14-12, 10-6 RMAC) left the bases loaded in the first inning, but they threatened again in the fourth. With two runners on, Tyler Hayes doubled to left field, scoring one run. Highlands’ Josh McMahon tried to score from first, but Kozel tagged him out at home on a relay from left fielder Mitch Corwin and Robertson.
“They were trying to push the envelope a little bit and sneak it in there,” Kozel said. “I used my body to block the plate. Luckily, he slid right into me.
“It was a good thing our guys were on their toes, especially Mitch in left and Nate on the throw.”
Highlands tried it again in the fifth with two out when Matt Gualco tried to score from second on a single, but Mesa right fielder Austin Kaiser threw a strike to the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Kozel, who tagged out Gualco.
“Those are the number one plays to get as a catcher,” Kozel said. “I was fortunate enough to get good throws and was able to block the plate.”
The Mavericks made it tougher on Highlands with an insurance run in the fifth for a 4-1 lead. Carpenter, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games, scored on the back end of a double steal. Robertson stole second, drawing a throw and giving Carpenter an opportunity to go.
Highlands got one run back in the seventh and had one runner on with one out in the ninth when Hanks went to Carpenter to close the game.
Although Carpenter gave up a hit to a pinch-hitter, he got the next two batters out for his fifth save of the season.
“Garrett’s been our shutdown guy,” Kozel said. “He’s a gamer. He gets the job done.”