Cowboys up: Mavs’ poor play hands Highlands RMAC title
It was a foregone conclusion that New Mexico Highlands was going to win the RMAC regular-season baseball title.
Mesa State, the five-time defending conference champion, didn’t want to see it happen on its field, and the Mavericks sure didn’t want to see it happen in the first game of the series.
The Mavericks, though, dropped fly balls, made poor throws, didn’t hit with runners in scoring position and didn’t get the pitching they needed Friday night on Bus Bergman/Little League Family Night at Suplizio Field. The Cowboys walked away with the title in a 15-8 victory.
“Too many errors too early, didn’t get off to a good start on the mound,” Mesa State coach Chris Hanks said.
“We just weren’t good enough to beat them tonight. We didn’t pitch well enough and didn’t hit with two strikes, and the errors killed us.”
Highlands (24-14, 23-3 RMAC) would have had to lose its final seven conference games and the Mavericks (24-14, 19-10) win their final seven to repeat. The Cowboys’ three home runs, 13 hits and error-free defense made sure that didn’t happen.
“I didn’t think either team played great baseball, but Mesa and us have a history of these games over the years,” Highlands coach Steve Jones said.
“Both teams were a little caught up in the meaning of the series and a little tight. Maybe we’ll come out and both teams play good baseball the rest of the weekend.”
The chilly night and light rain prevented the Mavericks from reclaiming the NCAA Division II attendance record, but they drew 2,318, the biggest crowd in the RMAC this season. Mesa State debuted its 1956 vintage cream and maroon uniforms, and Hanks hinted the Mavs might break them out again today for a doubleheader beginning at 1:30 p.m. at Suplizio.
More important than uniform choice, however, is that the Mavericks play better baseball.
“We’re gonna have to battle,” Hanks said. “We’re still in second place, we’re still playing for regional stuff, we still have three games left in this series. We can still win the season series over the No. 1 team in the region.”
The problems began in the first inning after Danny Brown hit a three-run home run to right-center off Scott Bachman.
With one out, he got Oscar Sigala to fly out to right, but Greg Anderson dropped the ball, allowing Sigala to reach second. He scored on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
“I hate to say it, but that’s what Chris’ bunch did to us last year,” Jones said. “When we made mistakes, they took advantage of it, and that’s what this team has been able to do.”
Mesa, though, scored three in the bottom of the inning on an RBI double by Brett Nigbur, an infield single by Ken Evanson and a base hit up the middle by Ryan Shelton.
Still, they had two on with one out but Brian Bello and Marty Rover struck out. The Mavericks left 11 men on base, seven in scoring position.
“We had the runners,” Hanks said. “We had bad at-bats. Twice we could have caught them and passed them and had bad at-bats with runners in scoring position. That’s a toughness thing.”
Back-to-back home runs in the third by Nigbur, who went 4 for 4 with a walk and raised his batting average to .472, and Jeff Popick kept the Mavs within one run, 6-5, but the Cowboys had a trio of three-run innings, the fourth, seventh and ninth, to put it out of reach.
Highlands is hitting .392 as a team and showed why — only Sigala went hitless against Mesa’s four pitchers.
Highlands’ senior-laden team (17 on the roster, including Friday night’s entire starting lineup) is almost a mirror image of Mesa State’s team last season that reached the World Series.
With the conference title secured, Jones said, the Cowboys need to hone their game.
“I told them out there (in the team meeting after the game),” Jones said, ” ‘We won the thing, now can we go play good baseball?’ ”