CARY, N.C. — Colorado Mesa got to the Division II Baseball Championship on the strength of a power-hitting lineup that has produced 81 home runs this season.
But Saturday, in their opening game of the national championship tournament, the Mavericks abandoned their heavy-hitting approach for a more modest strategy.
The shift paid off in an 11-4 victory over New York Institute of Technology at the USA Baseball Training Complex's Coleman Field.
Unleashing a barrage of singles and doubles — including four singles and two doubles in a decisive seven-run second inning rally — coach Chris Hanks' top-seeded team took advantage of three previous appearances in Cary to advance into a winner's bracket matchup with Central Missouri on Monday.
The fifth-seeded Mules beat No. 4 Ashland 9-4 in Saturday's other opening-round game.
"The game plan at the plate was just to put the ball in play and make something happen," said third baseman Caleb Farmer, who had two hits in the decisive second-inning barrage.
"(Hanks) told us before we even got here that there's a certain way to play here and us trying to hit home runs isn't going to do it. Hitting line drives and in the gaps, getting on any way you can do it, that's how we're going to do it."
Chase Hamilton did actually hit one over the wall at the expansive park where baseballs don't carry well, especially on nights like Saturday when there's not much of a breeze. Hamilton's drive barely got out, hitting the foul pole 330 feet straight down the left-field line.
The rest of the Mavericks' damage was done by stringing together a succession of hits that stayed in the park.
Especially in the second inning.
Farmer got the rally off to an unassuming start with a bunt single that gave Mesa its first runner of the night. Spencer Bramwell followed with a single. Then after NYIT pitcher D.J. Masuck couldn't decide where to throw the ball on Hamilton's bunt, allowing him to reach and load the bases, Johnny Carr delivered a one-out RBI single to put the Mavericks (51-10) ahead.
Nine-hole hitter Josh Shapiro got two more home with the first of his two-run scoring singles in the game before Hunter Douglas doubled to make it 4-0. Shapiro scored on a wild pitch, Douglas came home on a Jordan Stubbings' sacrifice fly and Farmer finished what he started with a double for the seventh run of the inning.
"We were fortunate to get to their kid there in the second inning. That might have been the difference in the game," Hanks said. "That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to get to their bullpen as quickly as we could. It was a good start for us."
Although the seven runs were all Mesa would need, the Mavericks continued to add to the lead with two runs in each of the third and sixth innings.
That made life significantly easier for Mesa surprise starter Trevin Reynolds, who never let NYIT (37-15) get close enough to challenge — allowing only one earned run on five hits in six innings of work.
His only real difficulty came in the fourth, when after giving up an unearned run, he got leadoff hitter Ben McNeill to pop out in foul territory to strand a pair of runners. A.J. Landis finished things off by allowing one run over the final three innings to earn the save.
"My mentality was to go out there and try to get the guys back in as quick as possible once we got the big lead," Reynolds said.
The junior right-hander didn't find out he would be starting Game 1 until Friday night. The Game 1 starter role would normally have been filled by RMAC pitcher of the year Garrett Hutson. But the Hutson wasn't available, having been left home because of what Hanks described as a violation of team policies.
"It was a hard decision, not something you want to do," Hanks said. "We certainly miss him, but that's the deal."
The Mavericks didn't miss him much with the way Reynolds pitched.
"As we've gotten into postseason play, he's a guy that we can hang out hat on," Hanks said. "We figure if we roll him out there, we'll have a good chance because he's not going to give them very much."