Senior leadership helped Mavs earn World Series berth

THIRD BASEMAN ANDREW MARTINEZ, 3, a Central High School graduate, is one of several seniors Coach Chris Hanks, left, and the Mavericks have relied on to reach the Division II World Series.

The Mesa State College baseball team made history Sunday, but the Mavericks are looking for more.

The 29th-ranked Mavericks (43-13) have a chance to win an NCAA Division II title. Mesa begins play in the Division II World Series against another first-time qualifier, Belmont Abbey (N.C.) College (38-24), at 11 a.m. (MDT) Saturday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

“We’ve come such a long way,” senior shortstop Matt Bodenchuk said. “When I got here (in 2003), getting to regionals was such a big deal. We’d never beaten Chico State. My junior year was the first time we ever beat Chico State.

“In 2004, ’05 and ’06, I don’t think we were on that level to win a regional tournament. It takes teams that have been there before and know what it’s like.

“This year was a lot different,” Bodenchuk said. “We’ve had one goal and that is to win a national championship. It feels unbelievable to be the first (baseball) team in school history to go to a national tournament.

“I’m just soaking it in now, but our ultimate goal is to win it all.”

Bodenchuk, who has been at Mesa State six years, including a redshirt season and last year when he was out after elbow surgery, watched how coach Chris Hanks built this team.

“For one, it starts with recruiting and Coach Hanks and the unbelievable job this staff has done bringing in really good talent. Every year, we’re more talented. Winning also helps. Getting to regionals and winning big games excites guys to come here. That’s another huge factor.

“Another factor is having guys that have been here before. We have a group of guys that have been to three regional tournaments. In years past, we’ve gotten excited when we win a conference championship or a regional game. Having senior leadership is probably the most important thing, and bringing other guys along.”

Bodenchuk, who set the school single-season record for RBI (90), is one of 16 seniors on the team this season and one of seven Mavs to play in three regional tournaments.

Andrew Martinez, Justin Little, Blake Carlquist and Mike Provencher all have plenty of playoff experience. Little was inactive with a finger injury last week, but hopes to play in the World Series.

Bodenchuk was selected the American Baseball Coaches Association Central Region Player of the Year on Monday. He was joined on the ABCA All-Central Region first team by second baseman Kevin Becker. Provencher and relief pitcher Aaron Guinn made the second team.

The Mavericks came close to qualifying for the World Series in 2007, when they reached the West Regional Championship without a loss. Cal State-Los Angeles, though, beat Mesa twice to steal the spot. Chris Cassell and Greg Anderson were also on that team.

“I think we learned a lot from that 2007 regional down in L.A.,” Martinez said. “We were undefeated going into the championship game. We were playing too loose, like we knew we were going to win, and they beat us there. We took what we learned there and applied it (Sunday).”

Hanks said the Mavs took batting practice prior to the regional championship with an intense focus, but were loose.

“They had an attitude that they were not going to be denied,” Hanks said. “This group never listed winning the conference or regional championship as a goal. This is the first year that winning a national championship was the only goal.

“Of course, the guys wanted to win the conference. When we were down at Highlands and clinched it, the next day, (Highlands coach Steve) Jones said, ‘I didn’t see you celebrate. I wouldn’t blame you for celebrating.’

“I didn’t have an answer for him. I think winning the conference was more of an expectation than a goal. It was a good feeling, but we had bigger goals to achieve.”


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