CARY, N.C. — After beating itself in its first attempt at advancing to the championship round of the Division II baseball championship on Thursday, there was no way Colorado Mesa was going to let it happen twice.
In one day, no less.
So after returning to the USA Baseball Training Center four hours after a self-inflicted 7-5 loss to Central Missouri, the Mavericks willed themselves to a 1-0 victory in their rematch with the Mules.
That's Will, as in senior closer Will Dixon, who rose to the occasion in his first career start to pitch a remarkable seven-hit shutout that lifted CMU to within two wins of a national title. The top-seeded Mavericks must beat No. 2 Tampa twice on Saturday to bring home the first team championship in school history.
"I can't say enough about Will Dixon's performance on the mound," CMU coach Chris Hanks said after the masterpiece. "I think it speaks for itself. Our kids just battled and I'm really proud of them."
No one battled harder than Dixon, who only three days earlier tied a school record with his 16th save of the season.
The right-hander from Highlands Ranch was pressed into service as a starter after his team lost its first attempt at reaching the final, then found out on short notice that it would have to come back and play again later in the day because of an ominous weather forecast today.
"Everybody's good here. You're not going to roll into a game and face a bad team," Dixon said. "Everybody wants to win it just as bad as you do. You just have to stay focused for 27 outs. That's all that it comes down to."
Effectively mixing his pitches, especially with a curveball that kept Central Missouri's big hitters off balance all night, Dixon struck out four and walked two, needing only 103 pitches and just more than two hours to earn the complete-game victory.
"He competed his tail off," Mules coach Kyle Crookes said of Dixon. "We knew that's what he was coming in. That guy walks in and there's (a presence about him) when he walks in. He's got something about him that's pretty special."
Dixon got out of his only real jam in the third by inducing an infield popup and a double play ball after allowing the first two men to reach.
After that, his most tense moments came in the ninth when he allowed a leadoff single to Harrison Schnurbusch, whose 10 hits are the most of any player in the tournament. With the tying run on base and two relievers warming up in the bullpen, Hanks decided to let Dixon finish what he started.
And he responded by retiring the final three Central Missouri hitters before thrusting his finger skyward in an emotional tribute to his late teammate, Ryan Teixeira.
Dixon received the Ryan Teixeira Scholarship this year and wears his No. 17 jersey. Teixeira would have been a junior on this year's team — his parents are at the baseball championship.
Not that Hanks was seriously considering taking Dixon out in that situation.
"We had some guys ready just in case," Hanks said. "But yeah, for the most part it was going to be Will's game."
With Dixon mowing down the Mules (46-16), his teammates were having just as hard a time scratching out a run against Central Missouri starter Ben Kelsch.
The Mavs finally broke through in the top of the seventh.
Catcher Spencer Bramwell, who had three hits in the game, led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Johnny Carr, recovered from getting hit in the helmet by a pitch in the day's first game, which left him with a bloody nose, beat out a bunt to get the runner to third.
Bramwell scored on a sacrifice fly by Trevin Reynolds.
It's fitting that the winning run scored in that manner since earlier in the day — in the seventh inning — Bramwell cost the Mavericks a key run by not getting home before teammate Caleb Farmer was thrown out at second for the third out after tagging up on what would otherwise have been a sacrifice fly.
"Being at third, I just made sure I tagged and made sure he catches it," Bramwell said of his chance at redemption. "I was busting down the line just in case something happened."
The botched sacrifice fly was only one of several mistakes, both mental and physical, CMU made in its first loss of the double-elimination tournament.
The Mavericks (52-15) also made three fielding errors, allowed one run to score on a balk and left a dozen men on base. They made up for it, however, by playing cleanly in every phase of the game in the rematch with the Mules.
"In the first game, we just didn't play our game," Farmer said. "I think we were too back on our feet and we didn't let the game come to us.
"After that loss we realized that this could be our last game of the year. But we've played like that all year. Once we get into these situations where it's all or nothing, we become more relaxed and just have fun with it."
That should make them feel right at home on Saturday, when they face the ultimate all-or-nothing situation with a championship on the line.