Mavericks edge Kingsville for spot in Division II World Series
It came down to a deep fly ball to the right-field corner.
Colorado Mesa senior Austin Kaiser ran it down with a little help, coach Chris Hanks believes, for the third out and a spot in the NCAA Division II World Series next weekend.
“This one has a special meaning to me because 13 years ago today we lost Tony Lopez,” Hanks said, choking up after the Mavericks defeated Texas A&M-Kingsville 7-6 in the South Central Region championship game. “I think Tony gave us some help. I was thinking about that today before the game.”
Lopez was killed in a car accident 13 years ago on May 18, days after pitching for the Mavericks in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament.
Hanks sent Lopez’s parents a text message Sunday, letting them know he was thinking about them.
The baseball program has a scholarship in Lopez’s name. Kaiser and pitcher Kyle Davis shared the scholarship this year. Davis wears Lopez’s No. 12 as part of the scholarship.
“I’ve been very blessed to be a part of his memorial scholarship,” Kaiser said. “On top of that, I know his parents. His dad was my Little League coach.
“To be able to come out with this victory, which was an unbelievable team win, and having this be the memorial of Tony Lopez is pretty special.”
The Javelinas trailed 7-4 going into the ninth inning, but they loaded the bases and pushed one run across on a bunt.
Hanks pulled starting pitcher Matt Delay, who picked up the victory. Tyler Dunnington came in and walked the next batter as Kingsville cut Mesa’s lead to one run with one out.
Matt Allen came in for Dunnington and induced Taylor Taska to pop up for the second out. Cleanup hitter Brian Frazier, who hit a home run in the eighth, then smoked a pitch to the right-field corner, but Kaiser ran it down and caught it a couple feet from the foul line for the final out.
“Man, Austin Kaiser can run,” Hanks said. “That track is going to go down as one of the best tracks in our program’s history. He ran that down. That kid hit that pretty well.”
Frazier’s hit came within inches of getting past the speedy Kaiser and would’ve put the Javelinas ahead going into the bottom of the ninth.
“Any ball in the outfield in that situation, they’re going to take the lead,” Kaiser said. “Off the bat I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this.’ I ran as fast as I could and got it.”
The Mavericks (44-11) took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning, then added three runs in the sixth for a 6-3 lead. Kevan Elcock drove home a run with a double, then Austin Wallingford hit a two-run home run.
Texas A&M-Kingsville came back with a run in the eighth on Frazier’s home run.
Mesa added a run in the bottom of the eighth that turned out to be the game-winner on Kevan Elcock’s solo home run over the left-field wall.
“I can’t describe it right now,” Elcock said. “It was completely surreal when the ball crossed over the fence. I came back in (the dugout), and everybody said that run’s going to mean something. Sure enough ... I can’t believe it.”
Delay picked up the win just two days after he gave up eight runs to New Mexico Highlands in the first game of the tournament.
“Coach told me when I was walking off the mound (against Highlands), to just get focused for Sunday,” Delay said. “I did everything I could. I tried to flush everything out.
“I had 30 minutes to warm up today. I have a pretty strict warm-up. It’s usually an hour. I got the last little bit of the warm-up out, got a groove and threw whatever pitches I could.”
Texas A&M-Kingsville (38-20) forced a rematch with the Mavericks with a come-from-behind 9-8 victory earlier.
The Javelinas raced to a 5-0 lead in the first inning against Ryan Reno, but Mesa rallied with four runs in the fourth and took a 7-6 lead in the sixth. Garrett Woodward hit a run-scoring double, then Wallingford hit a triple to score Woodward. Wallingford scored on Sergio Valenzuela’s bunt single.
Reno (3-2) allowed nine runs on nine hits in 7 1/3 innings.
“In fairness to him, some of those were seeing-eye singles,” Hanks said of Reno’s outing. “With the buffer of Game 2, we had to stick with him. We decided not to panic. We had nine innings to play. I don’t think he lost his composure.”
Mesa added a run in the seventh, but Kingsville came back with one in the bottom half of the inning and scored two runs in the eighth for the victory to force the second game.
The Mavericks regrouped and Delay, who once quit baseball, gave them a chance.
Delay came to Mesa this year after transferring from Central Florida College. He was out of baseball for two years after high school.
“Regardless of what happens in my future and the rest of my career, I’m going to remember this the rest of my life,” Delay said. “I’m so happy I got the chance to come out here. I’m so grateful for the opportunity Coach Hanks gave me. I’m so grateful for these guys. I’m going to cherish this the rest of my life.”