It was far from Colorado Mesa’s best game of the season.
A season-high five errors. A season-high 13 hits and nine runs allowed by Andrew Morris, and also a season-low two strikeouts.
In the seventh inning Thursday, after the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs rallied for four runs to reclaim the lead in the first round of the NCAA Division II South Central Regional, the Mavericks still had Haydn McGeary.
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association national player of the year came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out.
McGeary launched a grand slam to left-center, and sent the Mavericks into the second round with an 11-9 victory.
“I’m just sticking with the approach of being patient. We kind of talked about it in the dugout, you’re being too quick,” said McGeary, who is under consideration to be one of the 15 finalists for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top amateur player in the nation. “I’m swinging at borderline pitches that you can’t necessarily square up. Just kind of slowing the game down, knowing all the pressure, even with two outs, was on the pitcher. He couldn’t walk me, so I’m going to get a pitch to hit at some point. I just couldn’t miss it.”
He didn’t miss it.
McGeary’s second home run of the game and 20th of the season was a no-doubter from the moment he made contact. That and the relief pitching of Austin Lorenz kept the top-seeded Mavericks in the winners’ bracket, facing Angelo State at 5:30 tonight for a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
McGeary drove in six runs, giving him a nation-leading 88 RBI.
Lorenz, in only his eighth appearance of the season, threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief. The only batter who reached against him was Matt Berg, the beneficiary of CMU’s fifth error of the game that brought the tying run to the plate. Lorenz, though, got Michael Bennin to fly out to center.
“Not only did he not play early in the year, but he hasn’t played his whole career,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said of Lorenz. Also Wednesday night, Hanks was voted the NCBWA’s national coach of the year. “He’s in his fourth year, biology major, graduating and here down at the end, there’s a young man who’s come every day for four years and done everything to the best of his ability and kept a wonderful attitude. He’s getting rewarded, and he deserves it.
“We were just going to bridge the eighth there and maybe go to (Anthony) Durbano in the ninth, but he got quick outs. He had them off balance. They were sitting hard all day with Andrew’s velo and we slow it down with the soft lefty. We thought (Lorentz) would be effective as long as he threw strikes.”
In only their fifth year of existence, the Mountain Lions (30-12) not only reached the regional playoffs, but have handed CMU (42-5) three of its five losses this season. Seven of their nine runs were unearned, and down 5-2 in the fifth, the Mavericks finally got something going.
McGeary walked and Jordan Stubbings singled. Spencer Bramwell put down a bunt, and the throw to third wasn’t in time to get McGeary. Conrad Villafuerte followed with a two-run double, chasing UCCS starter Jonathan Cowles.
Caleb Farmer greeted Hayden Salverda with an RBI single and Harrison Rodgers’ safety squeeze bunt scored Villafuerte for a 6-5 lead. Matt Turner made it 7-5 with a leadoff home run in the sixth, his 23rd of the season.
But the Mountain Lions, aided by another CMU error, scored four runs in the top of the seventh.
“I’ve been playing with these guys three years and we’re way better than what we played like today,” McGeary said. “It shows me we played as bad as we did on defense and still won the game. It’s frustrating … it’s not representative of what we do as a program on defense, so all we can do is turn the page now that we won the game and just not make any more errors going forward.”