Carr’s clutch hit helps Mavs rally past Orediggers
JJ Carr’s aim was off by a few feet, but you don’t always have to hit where you’re aiming to make things work.
The Colorado Mesa third baseman drove a base hit up the middle with two out in the bottom of the ninth Friday afternoon, scoring John Ballard from second base to put the No. 10 Mavericks into RMAC championship game with a 4-3 victory over Colorado School of Mines.
Colorado Mesa (43-10) plays at 1 this afternoon against Mines, needing to win only once to clinch a spot in next week’s South Central Region tournament.
“(CMU coach Chris Hanks) said to me before I got to the plate, ‘Your hit-and-run approach is going to work great against this pitcher,’ ‘’ Carr said. “That’s what I tried to do, just work the ball to the right side. They had a big hole between second and first. That’s where I was aiming, but thankfully it got up the middle. I tried to stay as short as possible, especially with two strikes.”
Carr’s single on a hit-and-run was one of several key plays the Mavericks came up with late to rally against the Orediggers.
In a pitch-for-pitch battle of left-handers, Mines’ AJ Valerio and Mesa’s Chris Ramirez each went 7 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on six hits. Valerio threw 106 pitches, 67 strikes, walked two and struck out four. Ramirez needed 102 pitches, 75 strikes, didn’t walk a batter and fanned eight.
“I was concerned we might get that kind of effort from (Valerio),” Hanks said. “He’s a good kid and reminds me a lot of Ryan Reno. He’s a command guy, he stays away. If he has command of his fastball on the edges and then he has that change-up going and can dump that breaking ball in on fastball counts, it’s tough. I thought we squared up a lot of balls, we just didn’t find holes, but he pitched a heck of a game. He deserved to win the game as well. He pitched well enough for them to win.”
Ramirez, too, deserved a decision, and did what Hanks asks of the starters — keep the Mavericks in the game and give them a chance to win.
“I just made sure I reminded myself that I have eight other guys behind me,” Ramirez said. “Whenever any type of selfishness enters my mind, that’s when stuff hits the fan. There were a couple of errors, but I’m just glad I kept that in mind. Even though we have one or two errors, that doesn’t define how I pitch.”
A throwing error by Kyle Serrano after a wild pitch in the seventh allowed Mines to take a 3-2 lead, and the Orediggers had bases loaded in the eighth with one out after reliever Jeff Wodiuk intentionally walked Connor Lambert.
Jace Selsor grounded to first, forcing the lead runner at the plate. Cody Marvel’s bid for a base hit up the middle was stopped by a diving Zach McLeod at short, who, from his belly, got just enough on the ball to shovel it to Andrew Contreras for the final out at second.
“That was one of those bad dreams when you’re running in sand or something,” Hanks said of watching the play from the dugout. “Amazing play. That was the question, whether he could get some kind of balance to where he could get the ball and flip it. ... That was a game-saver for us.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Serrano worked a walk with one out. After Bligh Madris, who hit a no-doubt game-tying home run in the sixth, struck out, Serrano stole second against left-handed reliever Walter Pennington.
“He was pretty slow to the plate, so I knew I could do it,” Serrano said. “It was just a matter of going on the right pitch and not getting picked off.”
On a 3-2 pitch, Tanner Rempel drove the ball up the middle to tie the game 3-3 and give the Mavs a chance in the ninth, especially after another heads-up play by the Mavs’ senior catcher.
Mikey Gangwish singled to shallow center, and the Orediggers were planning to bunt him into scoring position. Serrano knew what needed to be done.
“I knew they were going to bunt. It’s a tough play as a base runner on first when you’re trying to get a lead and make sure you get advanced,” Serrano said. “I knew he was going to get a big lead and he gave me a good pitch to do it. (Trevor Kehe) whiffed on a bunt and I was trying to think, ‘Stay on top of the ball, make a good throw.’ ’‘
He did, picking Gangwish off at first. Kehe flied out to center, and after Wodiuk walked Derek Daly, Hanks went to his closer.
Tyler Day needed only one pitch, getting pinch-hitter Joe Popp to ground out to second.
Matt Haggerty’s hard chopper to short made Daly backpedal to the outfield grass with one out in the ninth. The ball skipped on him, allowing Haggerty to reach on the infield single. Hanks didn’t hesitate calling on Ballard to run.
“He’s our fastest kid. He’s a kid that even if he gets a bad jump, he has a reasonable chance of making it because he’s so incredibly fast,” Hanks said. “He tends to be a little passive, I told him, ‘Hey man, if we tell you to run, just do it. If they pick, beat the throw to second base.’ “
Ballard swiped second, and with two out, Carr came through with the winner, racing into shallow right field after he crossed first and Ballard scored, knowing his teammates were on their way.
He threw his helmet high in the air, and didn’t mind too much when he was drenched with water and his jersey was torn off his back: “It was awesome.”