Mavs win 4th straight RMAC tourney title, set sights on regional
Sure, they celebrated, but it wasn’t a championship dogpile.
There’s work left to do for the Colorado Mesa baseball team, which won its fourth straight RMAC tournament championship Saturday, 15-7 over Colorado School of Mines at Suplizio Field.
“It’s always a great feeling,” said Jake Mielock (3-2), the third of four pitchers the Mavericks turned to on the warm, windy afternoon. “We still have a long way to go. Today was a goal of ours, but it wasn’t our ultimate goal.”
After Keenan Eaton settled under the final fly ball in center field, the Mavs scrambled over the dugout fence as closer Tyler Day raised both arms in triumph on the mound. The three outfielders did a “fun bunch” jump and joined the rest of the Mavs for high-fives and hugs on the infield and tipping their caps to the crowd, but compared to the crazy walkoff celebrations this season, it was tame.
Part of that was that the game was in hand, but the biggest reason for a subdued on-field celebration is that this team is driven to be playing into June at the NCAA Division II World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas.
The Mavericks (44-10) will find out at 8 tonight (ncaa.com) where the next goal will be played out, at Suplizio Field or San Angelo, Texas. Angelo State, which entered the conference playoffs No. 1 in the South Central Region, lost in the Lone Star Conference championship game 9-6 to West Texas A&M.
West Texas A&M might have opened the door just enough for the Mavericks to stay home, where they’re 27-5 this season, but have lost two of the past three regionals after finishing as the national runners-up in 2014.
“That crack might exist but quite honestly, we committed to not worrying about it,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “We’ve had this thing here the last three years, maybe it would be good for us to go on the road, but I don’t think winning or losing is ultimately decided on that. It’ll be decided by teams’ preparation, how we get ready and perform on game day, obviously.
“We’re going to try not to worry about those things you can’t control at this point.”
One aspect that was tough to control was the wind, which started by blowing straight in from center field, then shifted to blowing toward left.
“I recognized especially to left, the ball was carrying pretty well,” Mielock said. “Tanner (Rempel) hit one to right early in the game pretty well and we all thought it was going to get out and the wind hung it up.”
Rempel, who hit .500 (6 for 12 with nine RBI) and made the all-tournament team, crushed a pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning that was headed for the parking lot. Instead, it turned into a deep sacrifice fly, scoring PJ Gonzalez, who led off with a single up the middle.
“Obviously it was a little frustrating that first at-bat,” Rempel said with a grin. “You have to stay with the line-drive approach and hope it falls.”
It fell the rest of the day for the sophomore designated hitter, who went 3 for 4 with three RBI. He doubled home a pair of runs in the Mavericks’ five-run second inning, which was aided by three Colorado Mines errors, two immediately after a pair of fly balls to left.
“It was fun, that’s for sure,” Rempel said of the big innings — CMU scored three runs in each of the fourth and sixth innings. “You just have to see the ball and hit the ball, I guess.”
Mines answered with Colton Wardle’s three-run home run to left in the third, but Kevan Elcock singled and scored in the bottom of the inning before tournament MVP Bligh Madris lined a home run against the wind to right in the fourth. The ball appeared to hit a car in the parking lot and shot back into right field. Rempel singled, and with two out, Zach McLeod, who also made the all-tourney team along with catcher Kyle Serrano, doubled.
Up 13-7, Serrano led off the seventh with a solo home run, and Madris walked and took second on a wild pitch. When Andrew Contreras grounded out to the left side, Madris broke for third, sliding in as the throw back across the diamond hit him in the foot. He scrambled to his feet and scored.
AJ Landis got the start for the Mavericks, a bit of a surprise, but Hanks had a plan.
“We knew we wanted to start the game with a bona fide strike-thrower, and that’s AJ,” Hanks said. “He doesn’t walk anybody. We didn’t want to give them anything to start the day.”
Landis didn’t walk anyone in his two innings, struck out one, but gave up four runs on a pair of home runs. Eli Thornquist came on after Wardle’s home run in the third and gave up a three-run home run to Trevor Kehe in the fifth.
That brought Mielock out of the bullpen, and after walking the first man he faced, he retired seven in a row.
“Jake did a good job and restored a little bit of order and we just finished the game from there,” Hanks said.
With a pair of runners on in the eighth, Hanks went to Day to close it out. Logan Smith drove the ball deep to right, but Madris made a running catch against the wall, McLeod charged a grounder by Wardle and made a throw on the run, and Contreras made a sliding grab at second.
In the ninth, Day threw seven straight strikes, striking out the first two batters, the first on a nasty slider, then on a 1-1 pitch, got the fly ball to center.
The silver RMAC championship cup in hand, the Mavericks huddled at the plate, closing with their cry of “17Strong!” Once they find out their regional destination, they’ll get back to work Monday.
“We have a really big task ahead of us against some really good teams at the regional,” Hanks said. “We’ll enjoy this until tomorrow and then get organized.”