CMU dominates regional to reach NCAA World Series

CHRIS JONCKHEER/Special to The Daily Sentinel

Center fielder Matt Haggerty, 14, leaps on top of the huddle Monday as the Colorado Mesa baseball team celebrates winning the NCAA Division II South Central Regional championship. Kyle Leahy picked up his 13th victory in the 8-1 win over Arkansas-Fort Smith to clinch a berth in the NCAA Division II World Series.

CHRIS JONCKHEER/Special to The Daily Sentinel
The Colorado Mesa baseball team raises the NCAA South Central Region championship trophy on Monday after defeating Arkansas-Fort Smith 8-1 to clinch a berth in the Division II World Series. The Mavericks open play on Sunday against Quincy University (Illinois).

Kyle Leahy said it was time for the Colorado Mesa pitching staff to see what it could do at the regional level.

Now it’s time for the Mavs to see what they can do at the national level.

Led by a pitching staff that allowed only five runs in the South Central Regional tournament, Colorado Mesa swept through the field, capping it off with an 8-1 victory Monday over the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith to clinch a spot in the NCAA Division II World Series.

“Our guys were dominant all week,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said.

The Mavericks (48-10) play Quincy University (Illinois) at 5 p.m. (MDT) on Sunday in the first round of the World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Leahy, pitching on what would normally be his bullpen day, turned in a tournament MVP performance, even though he wasn’t his sharpest. He allowed six hits in six innings and struck out four.

Tyler Day came on in the ninth inning to shut down the Lions’ final attempt to rally after Eli Thornquist walked the leadoff batter. Day gave up a base hit, but then got a fly ball to right. Logan Allen bounced a ball up the middle, but second baseman Lane LaCrone made a diving stop behind the bag and got the ball out of his glove just in time to flip to Zach McLeod to force Dylan Hurt.

“That was a great effort staying with the play and getting the out,” Hanks said. “We’re in a little bit of a mess there, I suppose. When you get to those last innings, you’re counting outs.”

Allen moved up on a wild pitch, but Edward Ibarra struck out to send the Mavericks to their goal destination.

As Day thrust both arms into the air, CMU catcher Kyle Serrano stood at the plate for a half-second, then spiked his catcher’s mask into the turf and rushed the mound as gloves and caps flew into the air.

Serrano, the Central High School standout who graduated from CMU last week, was a freshman on the 2014 CMU team that finished as the national runner-up. He didn’t make the travel squad that year.

“He didn’t make it as a freshman; he will as a senior,” Hanks said with a chuckle. Serrano, who has played the past two weeks despite a fractured right thumb, went 4 for 4 in the championship game, scored twice and drove in one run.

He also handled the pitching staff that walked only six batters and struck out 36 in the four games — and every pitcher who worked in the tournament had no NCAA regional playoff experience.

Hanks said starting Leahy was in the plan as soon as the tournament was pushed back one day by weather.

“Once we got the day off we were pretty well set,” Hanks said. “We knew we were going to throw him today. There was some talk if we would save him for an ‘if’ game occurred, but we decided to go attack them right away,get this over with.

“Today was Leahy’s normal bullpen day, so he got an extended bullpen throwing to hitters. He was a little tired around the fourth and into the fifth. We were trying to get him to seven, but six was about it.”

He seemed to tire in the fourth inning, but told Hanks he was OK.

“I told him if he’s not OK to tell us. ‘No, I’m just cruising. If you want me to empty (the tank) let me know and I’ll empty it.’

“We got into the sixth and Serrano said, ‘He’s a little bit tired and I think he’s afraid to tell you.’ I yelled down the dugout in the bottom of the sixth, ‘Empty the tank!’ ‘’

With two out and two on in the fifth inning, Hanks went out to talk with Leahy, but stayed with his big sophomore.

He got Allen to fly out to PJ Gonzalez, who made a spectacular diving catch near the corner to rob Allen of extra bases.

“PJ was clutch with the bat and helped with a hit (to lead off the game) and the diving catch,” Hanks said. “That would’ve gotten them a little bit back in the game had that fallen.

“We played good defense and played together; they out-competed everybody, out-teamed them.”

By taking the approach of attacking the Lions, the Mavericks scored in each of the first four innings. Gonzalez singled and came home on Serrano’s double in the first inning, McLeod lifted a sacrifice fly to left in the second and another run came home when Matt Haggerty, one of five Mavericks on the all-tournament team, reached on an error.

Tanner Rempel singled in another run in the third and McLeod led off the fourth with a home run. Haggerty walked and took third on a double by Gonzalez, then scored on a sacrifice fly by JJ Carr.

After Leahy (13-0) emptied the tank in the sixth by retiring the Lions in order, CMU put it out of reach with two more runs in the top of the seventh on Rempel’s two-run double down the left-field line.

Day, who threw three innings on Saturday, warmed up on Sunday, but Chris Ramirez threw a complete game, saving the bullpen.

“We got him hot (Sunday and he didn’t know if he was pitchable,” Hanks said of the senior closer. “He was a little iffy today, too, but he said, ‘I can give you one.’ He was laboring, was 90, 91 (mph), but he competed.

“Having a seven-run lead, what you need more than anything is strike-throwers. You don’t want to walk ‘em or hit ‘em and you hope you can prevent them from stringing enough pure hits to come back on you.”

Once they clutched the regional championship trophy, the Mavericks huddled for their traditional “17Strong” salute.

“As we know, Ryan Teixeira had a huge impact on this group of kids and the coaches and changed a lot of people’s perspectives,” Hanks said of the redshirt freshman third baseman who passed away in March after a lengthy fight with leukemia. “We talk about him all the time and I think there is a genuine love between these guys.”

The Mavericks took their fun-loving attitude to Texas, and it paid off.

“All weekend I’ve told people it’s the loosest team at a regional I’ve ever coached,” Hanks said. “Every single game the looseness was incredible. Not sloppy, they were just loose. We more or less just committed to having fun and the guys held true to it all weekend.”


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