Tough new challenge
In first year of South Central region play, Mavs set to face some stiff competition
Participating in the NCAA Division II regional baseball tournament is expected for Colorado Mesa University.
The sixth-ranked Mavericks (44-9) are in their fifth consecutive regional, 11th in the past 15 years and 13th in school history.
Mesa, though, is in a new region, the South Central, this year with schools from the Heartland Conference, Lone Star Conference and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The Mavericks were in the West Region for several years, then the NCAA moved the RMAC to the Central Region in 2009. That year, Mesa won the regional title and advanced to the Division II World Series. Mesa and the RMAC remained in the Central Region with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference until this year when the NCAA realigned the regions and put the RMAC in the South Central Region.
“I don’t know much about those clubs,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “When we were in the West, it was perennially one of the best in the nation.”
Hanks started picking up information on the Mavericks’ regional opponents, Texas A&M-Kingsville, St. Edward’s (Texas), Angelo State (Texas) and St. Mary’s (Texas) from junior college coaches.
Hanks and his coaching staff recruit players from Texas junior colleges and have established connections with the coaches. The Texas junior colleges scrimmage the Texas Division II programs in the fall.
“We go into this region expecting them to be good,” Hanks said. “Pitching and defense are their ultimate strengths.”
St. Mary’s (Texas), Mesa’s first-round opponent at 2 p.m. (MDT) today, has the most tradition and history.
The 11th-ranked Rattlers (37-15) have won four consecutive Heartland Conference regular-season titles and made two World Series appearances, winning the 2001 national title. They made it to the World Series last year.
“St. Mary’s is known for good pitching,” Hanks said. “Everything considered, we may have gotten the toughest draw. They’ve been the best team in Texas. They played in the World Series last year and have a lot of players back from that team.”
St. Mary’s has the third lowest team ERA in the nation (2.48). The Rattlers have a pitcher in the hunt for the Tino Martinez Award, given to the Division II player of the year, in Matt McClain (8-4, 2.21 ERA) and a finalist for the award last year, Rene Solis (8-1, 1.94).
The Mavericks could be the biggest challenge for the St. Mary’s pitching staff. Mesa is fourth in the nation with a .350 batting average and fifth in the country in stolen bases (142). Mesa is also the top fielding team in the region with a .970 fielding percentage.
The Rattlers will be aided by the heavy, wet humidity in the air, opposite of the thin, dry air in Colorado.
“I suspect the power side on offense will be neutralized by the humidity and good pitching,” Hanks said. “We started building to be a sea-level friendly team. That allows us a chance against good pitching. The other side of it is the RMAC is not known for pitching because of our elevation. The sea level can enhance our pitching.”
Mesa’s pitching staff is nothing to sneeze at. The Mavericks have the third best team ERA in the region (3.34). Opponents are batting .250 against Mesa pitching.
Even if the South Central Region is tougher, the Mavericks are excited to prove they are pretty good, too.
“We play good people,” Hanks said. “It comes down to readiness to play and who gets the timely hits.”
Hanks said he’ll pitch Matt Williams in the first game against St. Mary’s (Texas) University and go from there.