Fun-loving Mavericks enter RMAC baseball tourney at full strength
One year ago, Bligh Madris was sitting in a chair behind home plate, chasing down foul balls, his left hand in a cast.
JR McDermott, the freshman ace of the pitching staff, was nursing a sore elbow. Tyler Day, another starting pitcher, had a busted finger.
All three are healthy heading into the RMAC tournament, which for Colorado Mesa, begins at 7 tonight against Regis at Suplizio Field.
Madris had surgery on the broken bone in his hand and has torn up RMAC pitching this season, leading the conference with a .449 average, 14 home runs and 57 RBI.
McDermott’s tender elbow was just that, no structural damage, so after taking the summer off and slowly building up his arm strength in the fall, is 7-1 with 80 strikeouts.
Day has shifted roles, from a starter to a Friday night closer/Sunday starter, and it seems to suit him. He’s 4-2 with three saves and several times has struck out the side in his relief role.
Getting those three players back, and the way the Mavericks have played all season, has CMU coach Chris Hanks feeling good heading into the postseason.
“We get to go in with the guys who have carried us all year and don’t have to makeshift stuff and try to figure out and use smoke and mirrors to win or stay in games,” he said. “We get to go with the horses that have gotten us here to this point and we’ll commit to it and live with the outcome.”
Madris is a big part of the herd of workhorses for the Mavericks (40-10). Sitting out all but a handful of games last season after being the RMAC freshman of the year in 2015 has made him appreciate every day he’s on the field.
“It brings a lot more excitement to me and I think I bring a lot more enthusiasm back, being so grateful to be back,” he said. “It’s just a new energy and more fun, a lot more fun.”
No doubt about it, this team has a lot more fun. It’s written on the red rubber in front of the third-base dugout every game, the words “HAVE FUN” squirted out of a water bottle, usually with a smiley face.
Before games there are usually some antics in the clubhouse, from hitting slap shots through human hockey nets, football pass routes — Kevan Elcock even made a diving catch, tumbling over a table in the middle of the room to catch a water bottle — to curling, with players sweeping a path on a table for a makeshift curling stone.
“It definitely gets people hyped up in a different way,” Madris said. “The guys know how to have a good time, but we also know when to get serious and step it up a little bit, turn it up a notch a little bit and either get more focused or locked in.”
Madris definitely knows how to lock in for a game. He’s hard on himself when, by his standards, he doesn’t play well, but after those rare 0-for days, he always seems to come back with a vengeance.
“That’s my determination and focus,” he said. “I just have to elevate it a little bit more and just no matter what, bounce back. I can’t hang my head, I have to pick myself back up, and I have 30 other guys behind me picking me up and telling me I’m going to do better the next game if I have a bad game. I have that support system behind me and I’m able to shake off a bad performance.
“Baseball is a crazy sport and anything can happen, which is what makes it so great.”
The way Madris has played this season — at four different positions, center and right field, first base and as a reliever — isn’t a surprise to Hanks.
“Bligh’s a kid of incredible character, he’s a very good student, a very good person,” Hanks said. “His work ethic is unmatched. Generally those type of kids, good things happen. When you put work ethic with talent, we’re really not surprise at the year he’s had, and the year’s not over. It can still get better for him. I also know the character Bligh is, more than anything, he’s concerned about this team and winning games.”
Kyle Leahy, the super sophomore who is 10-0 with a 1.01 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 11 walks, gets the ball tonight. The 4.0 student won the RMAC’s Summit Award, which goes to the player in the conference tournament with the highest GPA. He’s also the leading candidate for pitcher of the year in the conference, which will be announced this week.
After that, Hanks said the rotation will depend on the opponent, but doesn’t expect to stray far, with either McDermott or lefty Chris Ramirez in the second game.
Mesa ran away with the conference title, but games weren’t a runaway, and that’s a good thing.
“We’ve had close games, at least two close games in every series, I feel like, and we’re prepped for it,” Madris said. “We haven’t blown every single team out, which I feel is going to help us right now, especially going into regionals next week.”
Hanks’ message to the Mavericks this time of year is simple.
“The mindset is be aggressive,” he said. “It’s play hard. It’s don’t worry about a thing.”