Harrison Rodgers had no idea the new lights at The Diamond at Bus Bergman Sports Complex did THAT.
As the Colorado Mesa second baseman led a full-team victory lap through the outfield, the new LED lights put on a show, flashing off and on around the stadium as the Mavericks celebrated a walk-off 5-4 victory over CSU-Pueblo.
“That was electric,” Rodgers said. “Whoever's on cue did a fantastic job, that was probably the highlight of the night.”
Rodgers raced home on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning after trying to bait CSU-Pueblo reliever Frank Wierman into doing just that.
With one out and the bases loaded on three walks — one intentional — CMU coach Chris Hanks rolled the dice, calling for a squeeze bunt. As Rodgers was barreling down the third-base line, Ethan Ezor got his bat on a low pitch, but fouled it off.
The Mavs' coach called for a conference, and asked Ezor what he wanted to do, bunt or slash.
“I told him hey, we're either going to safety squeeze, suicide squeeze or slash, what are you most comfortable with? He said, ‘I can slash,’ and that one looked like it might drop in,” Hanks said.
Ezor showed bunt, then pulled the bat back and popped the ball down the third-base line. CMU's entire dugout — and the crowd of 876, the best home crowd of the season — was waving for the ball to fall in behind third, but it landed in foul territory.
After being so close to scoring on the squeeze, Rodgers told Hanks he could steal home.
“We were on the same page and he told me to give him the fake break,” Rodgers said. “That's (the squeeze bunt) what put the thought in my head. I saw that and the pitch was low. If Ethan could have pulled back, we would have had it, but it all worked out.
“I'm trying to make it as realistic as possible, make it look like I'm stealing home. I thought I sold it well enough, it looked like he he rushed a little bit.”
Hanks gave him the go-ahead to bluff, and as Wierman went into his windup, Rodgers broke hard part-way down the line. Wierman's pitch sailed behind Ezor to the backstop and Rodgers came streaking across as Ezor waved him in.
It was a game the Mavericks (33-12, 20-9 RMAC) needed to win not only to stay in the conference lead, but to get them back on track after a rare three-game losing streak.
“I just hope this helps the fog lift a little bit because we've been in a fog,” Hanks said. “We've just got to grind it out. You can't play 50-plus games and expect to win every game and be sharp every game, it doesn't happen for anybody at any level.”
Regis (27-22-1, 20-12) is in second place and has its bye week this weekend, with (22-18, 17-11) Metro State playing a pair of doubleheaders against Colorado Christian today and Saturday to wrap up the regular season. CSU-Pueblo (26-21, 17-12) fell three games behind the Mavericks, who need to win two of three games to secure the conference title, no matter what the rest of the field does.
For awhile, it looked as if getting the first win was going to be tough.
The ThunderWolves scored all of their runs in the first two innings, stringing singles together to take a 4-0 lead.
Spencer Bramwell got the Mavericks on the board in the bottom of the second, leading off with a base hit and taking second on a balk.
Johnny Carr singled to right and Bramwell raced around to score, getting such a head of steam going down the third-base line that he ran all the way to the wall near the first-base dugout, grabbing the netting to stop his momentum.
After the second inning, Handy settled in, and although he gave up 10 hits and struck out only five, he kept the Mavericks in the game for 7 1/3 innings.
“He was gonna throw at least five innings. I told him that, you're throwing at least five because I'm not going to burn up the bullpen this early on a (Thursday) in this type of series,” Hanks said. “Kannon's a pretty cool customer, he doesn't get very excited. He's not a kid you yell at, you cheer him on and you say you can do it and he's got a very good inner self-confidence.”
Playing without designated hitter Haydn McGeary, who drew a two-game suspension when he was ejected after last Sunday's loss at Colorado Christian, the Mavericks had to manufacture runs. They never scored more than one run in an inning, but put enough pressure on the ThunderWolves to win. McGeary will be back in the lineup in the second game of today's doubleheader.
“That's a gut-check for sure,” Rodgers said. “That's a game, we could have rolled over after the top of the second at 4-0 but we were resilient and we were very tough tonight.”
Hanks had to make some tough choices along the way, including lifting Bramwell in the eighth inning for pinch-runner Jared Grenz. Bramwell singled to left with one out and the Mavericks down 4-3 with one out, but Hanks needed more speed on the bases, and it paid off.
A throwing error on a pickoff attempt sent Grenz to second and after Stevenson Reynolds drew a pinch-hit walk, Conrad Villafuerte delivered he biggest hit of the game.
His double just inside the third-base line allowed Grenz to score the tying run and that, along with Jordan Stubbings and Edwards (3-1) teaming up for a back-pick pickoff at first base in the eighth to help the Mavericks get out of a bases-loaded jam to provide a spark.
“This is good for our team that we can run for Bramwell, take a stud out of the lineup to get a speed guy in,” Hanks said. “That ends up being a team win, and that's what we needed, a team win.”
Leading off the ninth, Rodgers knew he had one job — get on base.
“That was for the boys right there,” he said of the leadoff walk. “As much as stats are a thing, we're here to win ballgames, and me being on base right there is giving us a very good chance to win.”