Ready to play ball
Mesa baseball team back on the field to prep for 2015
Bats are cracking, gloves are popping, and baseballs are slamming into the batting cage net.
The Colorado Mesa University baseball team began knocking off the rust and practicing for the 2015 season this week. And for the first time in several years, they’re starting their practices outdoors.
“The last six to seven years, we’ve worked in shifts of snow removal,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “Usually we start in the weight room, then conditioning and snow removal. We chip away at it while we’re in the MavPav (Maverick Pavilion).”
Although it rained Monday night, the Mavericks were on the field Tuesday.
The Mavericks, ranked fifth in the coaches preseason poll, played 12 innings in the national championship game last May before falling to Southern Indiana. Thirteen players from the program are gone, including national player of the year Austin Kaiser, who graduated, and Nate Robertson and Tyler Dunnington, who were drafted.
“We have a blend of starting experience and backup experience,” Hanks said. “Then we have a good mix of new guys. You never know what new guys are going to do. There is some talent there. We have to teach them our team concept and our culture. I think we’re getting buy-in from most of the kids. Now, it’s a matter of getting our rhythm and timing.”
Hanks is looking to catcher Austin Wallingford, Division I transfer Andy Scott (Texas-Arlington), first baseman Kevin Mitchell, and pitchers Matt Delay and Tyler Ehlers to lead this year’s team.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” Hanks said. “Right now, we’ve got to get in shape. We’ll have live BP this weekend and see who has the right look in their eye.”
Hanks is hungry to get back to work, maybe as much as ever, after coming so close to winning the school’s first Division II national title.
“Absolutely,” Hanks said. “We want to get back there as bad as we can. I told our guys the other night — we had our first team meeting of the year in the clubhouse — I told them our last team meeting of the season should be June 1 at 9 a.m. when we say goodbye and turn in our gear. That would be two days after the national championship game.
“All we can do is try to prepare in a way that gives us a chance to be in the conversation.”
Thirteen Colorado Mesa backup and redshirt wrestlers competed in the Utah Valley Open last weekend in Orem, Utah.
Redshirt freshman Stephen Mejia and Zak Slotten, who is back in school at Mesa and getting academically eligible, won titles.
Freshmen Beau Blackham and Jace Abbott reached the 141-pound final and chose to forfeit rather than wrestle each other. Two other Mesa wrestlers placed second and third.
Colorado Mesa is hosting another open tournament this Saturday, mostly for backup and redshirt wrestlers. This is the second year CMU is hosting the Second Chance Open tournament.
CMU coach Chuck Pipher plans to have 15 to 20 of his backup and redshirt freshmen wrestlers in the tournament. Meanwhile, he is taking the varsity starters and some backups to the Midwest Duals in Kearney, Nebraska.
Pipher, Larry Wilbanks and Darren Hockett will travel with the first string. Charlie Alexander, Dan Burke and graduate assistant Nick Petersen will coach the backups and redshirts.
The 20th-ranked Mavericks will wrestle three Division II schools and an NAIA school in the Midwest Duals. Mesa will wrestle Northern State, third-ranked Nebraska-Kearney and Southwest Minnesota State. A total of 27 schools are in the dual tournament.
Nebraska-Kearney has four nationally ranked wrestlers, including top-ranked Daniel DeShazer at 133 pounds and Romero Cotton at 197.
Colorado Mesa’s James Martinez, ranked third at 157, could wrestle fourth-ranked Chase White.
Paco Retana and Randy Boerner are expected to return to the lineup this weekend after sitting out a home dual last week.
The Mavericks will wrestle Chadron State in an RMAC dual Thursday night in Chadron, Nebraska.
Martinez will miss the dual to complete a two-week class this week.
Ryan Stephan had a big night last weekend against second-ranked University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
The junior center scored a career-high 40 points, grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and hit a career-high five 3-pointers in the Mavericks’ upset victory. He received the RMAC offensive player of the week award.
Despite the victory, the Mavericks did not receive votes in the National Basketball Coaches Association Division II poll which was released Tuesday. Colorado Mesa is 2-2 since returning from the break, and it had received votes before the break.
Colorado Mesa (12-4, 7-3 RMAC) hosts Western State Colorado University (3-11, 2-8 RMAC) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
No. 17 Metro State (12-3, 7-2 RMAC), which reached the national semifinals last season, comes to Grand Junction next Friday night.
Despite their loss to CU-Colorado Springs, the Mavericks still are receiving votes in the WBCA national rankings.
Mesa received eight votes, down from 11 the previous week. UCCS received one vote in the coaches’ poll. Lewis (Illinois) University (15-0) moved up one spot to No. 1 in the nation after Emporia State (Kansas) lost its first game of the year after 13 straight wins. The Hornets dropped to No. 3, behind Pittsburg State (Kansas).
Only two teams in the South Central Region are ranked, West Texas A&M, which is 10-2 and ranked No. 11, and Midwestern State, which is 13-1 and ranked No. 20.
Emily Moore, a junior forward, returned to practice Tuesday after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee in mid-December. Moore did not participate in any 5-on-5 drills, but she did all of the running and shooting drills.
Redshirt freshman center Kerstin Strong is out for the season after her meniscus surgery discovered more damage, leading to microfracture surgery on her left knee. She’ll apply for a medical redshirt season and still have four years of eligibility.