Mesa’s Becker adjusting well to playing in outfield
Justin Little has been a staple in the Mesa State College baseball program the past four years, but the Mavericks had to go without him the past two weeks because of a broken finger.
The senior center fielder, though, will at least be available to hit and run in the NCAA Division II World Series. Mesa State (43-13) plays Belmont Abbey (N.C.) College (38-24) in the double-elimination tournament at 11 a.m. (MDT) on Saturday at USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
“It’s still possible I could hurt the finger more, but I figure there’s nothing to lose,” Little said.
“It’s the World Series. I’m going to do everything I can.”
He had his middle finger on his right throwing hand X-rayed Monday. Although it’s still broken, he was given permission to try swinging a bat. Little hasn’t been cleared to throw, he said.
“I couldn’t grip the bat with my middle fingers, but it feels pretty good,” Little said. “It feels great to get back in the (batter’s) box and see pitches.”
Mesa State coach Chris Hanks said the coaches will continue to evaluate Little’s progress the next couple of days.
“His swing looks good,” Hanks said. “If we active him, we can use him as a DH or a pinch hitter.
“He gives us an option of having a speed guy in the DH slot. He’s obviously a team captain and leader and boy, his hands look fresh. Whenever a guy has a couple weeks off, those hands speed up a little bit.”
Little’s presence will be a big lift for the Mavericks. He set several Mesa State individual career records this season, including runs (229), hits (271) and stolen bases (66).
“It would mean a lot to him and his teammates (for Little to play),” Hanks said. “He’s been a four-year starter in center field. He won’t be able to play defense. If we did, we would have to hustle a corner outfielder to him to throw the ball and I don’t know if we want to do that.”
Little won’t be able to throw because the ball releases off the middle finger, which is the one that’s broken. That increases the potential of further damaging the hairline fracture, Hanks said.
When Little was injured, Lanzarotta slid over from left field to Little’s spot in center with second baseman Kevin Becker taking Lanzarotta’s spot.
“Kevin is a baseball player,” Hanks said. “He played a lot of outfield in junior college . We used him at second as a means to get his bat in the lineup. We’ve adjusted. There’s a good chance he’ll be left fielder the rest of the way. We can still bring him into second, but this is working right now, so we’ll stick with it, at least initially.”
Both Lanzarotta and Becker have thrived in their new positions.
Lanzarotta took a home run away from Wayne State in Sunday’s regional championship game and Becker didn’t commit an error.
“I tried to come in and fill his shoes, which are pretty big,” Lanzarotta said of replacing Little in center. “Becker did a great job coming in from the infield and handling the left field side.
“The depth on this team makes us adverse and makes me love this team more. We’ve got two-three guys deep at every position and fill the role without missing a beat.”
Becker, who made the Daktronics and ABCA All-Central Region team as a second
baseman, was fine with the move.
“We got back from the RMAC tournament and (Hanks) told me, ‘I want you to get some reps in left. There’s a chance you might be out there.’ ”, Becker said. “I said, ‘that’s fine.’
I’ve done it before. In the fall, I got that outfield look for a reason because they thought I’d have to go both ways and I get to use that (outfield) glove.”