The hit parade
Mesa brings hot bats into RMAC tournament
Colorado Mesa traditionally has good-hitting baseball teams, but the Mavericks’ bats had coach Chris Hanks concerned early in this season.
The seventh-ranked Mavericks (37-10) were hitting .256 through the first nine games of the season and were swinging at too many pitcher’s pitches.
Austin Kaiser was the only player hitting better than .300 (minimum of 10 at-bats) through the first month of the season.
Now, several other players are hitting the ball well, and it shows. Mesa is leading the nation with a .356 average. The Mavericks also lead the RMAC in fielding percentage and ERA.
The Mavericks are hosting the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, which begins at 3:30 p.m. today at Suplizio Field. Mesa plays Colorado School of Mines at 7 p.m.
The RMAC tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in the South Central Region. Mesa is ranked No. 1 in the region.
“It is a product of daily work and guys finding their swings,” Hanks said. “I don’t know there’s necessarily any magic. We have good hitters. We have kids with an aptitude to hit.
“There are a lot of factors: rhythm, timing and pitch selection. All those things have to come together for a guy to have success.”
Now, nine players with at least 50 at-bats are hitting better than .300.
Jordan Liester is second on the team with a .427 average. The senior designated hitter was hitting .235 after the first month.
“I think it’s a game of adjustments,” Liester said. “As a senior and someone that cares about this team, I wanted to do a lot for this team. I think I was trying to do too much early. Fortunately, I have a coaching staff willing to work with me every day and shorten the swing up.”
Hanks isn’t surprised Liester started hitting more lately.
“Jordan has been our leading hitter each of the last two falls,” Hanks said. “Each of the last two springs, he was a slow starter. He’s one of our hardest workers, both in the weight room and on the practice field. I know doing well and our team doing well is very important to him.
“Usually guys with that hitting approach that grind it out every day like he does, you hope at some point it pops. If I had to choose one time in the year, it would be at the end.”
Liester and Derrick Garcia played large roles in extending innings for the Mavericks in the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup.
Garcia, a junior second baseman, is third on the team with a .413 average.
“You get comfortable in the box when you get used to seeing pitches every day,” Garcia said. “You don’t feel like you have to change anything, either.
“Not knowing if you’re going to be in the lineup was kind of messing with me a little bit. Knowing he has confidence in me now definitely helps.”
For Garcia it was a matter of feeling comfortable in Grand Junction and at Mesa after transferring at the start of the spring semester.
“Derrick was a little slow to come around because he didn’t join us until January,” Hanks said. “There’s a transition period where a guy has yet to feel comfortable. It’s a big adjustment for him. He’s from L.A. This is a small town.”
For most of the Mavericks, it was a matter of finding a rhythm and building confidence as they started seeing the pitchers in the RMAC a second time around.
“Everyone says hitting is contagious, especially when you have guys in the top of the lineup getting on,” Liester said. “It’s a lot more fun hitting when you have guys on second and third.”
Austin Kaiser was selected the RMAC player of the year and the RMAC male athlete of the month for April.
The senior outfielder hit .500 to easily win the RMAC and NCAA batting titles for the regular season. He finished in the top 10 in the nation in total bases, slugging, doubles, runs scored and on-base percentage. He also stole 26 bases.
Kaiser was a unanimous first-team selection. Teammates Nate Robertson (junior, shortstop), Matt Delay (junior, pitcher), Joey Danner (senior, pitcher) and Matt Allen (junior, pitcher) joined Kaiser on the first team.
Senior pitcher Kyle Davis, Garcia, sophomore third baseman Tony Audino, junior outfielder Sergio Valenzuela, senior outfielder Garrett Carpenter and Liester made the second team.
Robertson and Kaiser made the RMAC All-Defensive Gold Glove Team. They also made the Capital One All-District Academic Team. Kaiser has a 3.81 GPA in sports management and Robertson has a 3.74 GPA in sports management.
Hanks received the RMAC coach of the year award for the seventh time in his 16 seasons. The Mavs won the RMAC regular-season title for the 10th time under Hanks and are in position to make the NCAA tournament for the 12th time under him.
CSU-Pueblo senior Mike Fabrizio is the RMAC pitcher of the year and Colorado Mines outfielder Cody Marvel is the RMAC freshman of the year.