Pair of wins has Mavs playing for RMAC title

It’s the time of year Chris Hanks wants two things from his baseball team:

First, obviously, is to win.

Second, have fun.

The Mavericks did both Saturday in the RMAC tournament, defeating Nebraska-Kearney 18-7 to reach the championship game, and then knocking off New Mexico Highlands 15-8 to force a second title game today.

“We’re playing with confidence and they’re doing exactly what we want them to do,” Hanks said. “They’re playing loose and having fun. They’re executing the game, bunting, stealing bases.

“The outfield is playing great. They’ve made some great catches, diving catches. (Brian) Bello and (Greg) Anderson have been tracking fools, running balls down deep in the gaps.”

Mesa State (36-17) and Highlands (38-11) play at 10 this morning for the conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament. Highlands is the top-ranked team in the region, the Mavericks are No. 4.

After erupting for eight runs in the fourth inning to take control against the Lopers in an elimination game, the Mavericks played steady baseball against the Cowboys, steadily building their lead.

It was 3-2 when Jeff Popick led off the top of the third with a base hit and Lucas Shaw followed with another. Ken Evanson doubled home Popick and Anderson laced a two-run double to left. Kevin Becker singled home another run and the Mavericks had a 7-2 lead for Ryan Gorzitze, who threw five innings for his first win of the season.

Mesa had 20 hits in the win over Highlands, its sixth in nine meetings this season.

“We’re getting some timely hitting and pitchers are keeping us in the game, and we’re playing good defense,” Hanks said.

Mesa’s big fourth inning against Kearney allowed the Mavericks to stay alive in the tournament.

Lucas Shaw doubled home a run, and a double steal by Anderson and Ken Evanson was followed by the first of three straight walks to score two runs. Brett Nigbur, who went 3 for 6 and drove in six runs, hit a bases-loaded double.

Nigbur added a three-run home run, his 13th of the season, in the fifth as part of a five-run inning that put the game out of reach.

Mike Sutton got the win in relief of Scott Bachman. Sutton went 42⁄3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits.

As far as today’s pitching choices, Hanks was still mulling that over Saturday night.

“We’ve got fresh arms left,” he said. “We could start Jack Amidei, we could start Tim Moore. We’ve got good arms left.”

The regional pairings are scheduled to be released sometime tonight. The Northern Sun tournament in St. Cloud, Minn., was rained out Friday, but got back on the field Saturday, with Southwest Minnesota State playing Minnesota Duluth in the semifinal game. That winner plays Minnesota Mankato for the title.


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