Despite reports of thunder in the area, the only thunder that made it to City Park Field was provided by the CSU Club Baseball Team’s triumphant performance.
Weather restraints set the stage for CSU’s rare triple-header against Colorado Mesa, which was originally scheduled to be played on April 16th and 17th. The series was postponed not once, but twice before Sunday.
“We tarped the field and thankfully it played out for us,” head coach Brian Dilley said. “We were finally able to get all three games in.”
In order for the Rams to capture back-to-back Mid-America-West conference titles, they needed to win at least two games against the Mavericks.
Thanks to a complete game tossed by righty Alex Marshall, the Rams were able to shutout Mesa in game one by a score of 5-0.
However, drama became the theme of the day when Mesa was able to fend of the Rams in game two. For the time being, the Mavericks halted CSU from capturing another conference title. A late three-run home run by Colorado Mesa ensured their 4-1 victory.
Since the teams split the first two games, the winner of game three would be named conference champions. However, a Colorado Mesa victory would actually result in a tricky situation.
“We knew that the season was on the line that last game,” Dilley said. “It would have ended up being a three-way tie with us, Mesa and Mines if we lost.”
Luckily for the Rams, they hit the ground running in game three. A perfect frame in the top of the first, thrown by starting pitcher Tate Hughes, was followed by a hit parade in which the Rams pushed across four runs.
After a leadoff double by Stratton Williams and a walk drawn by Matt Williams, Outfielder Matthew Hart put the Rams in the run column with a single up the middle.
“They moved me up in the lineup because I’ve been hitting well so it was just good to pull through for my teammates,” Hart said.
The starting pitcher for Mesa was able to recover from letting the first four Rams hitters reach base with a bases-loaded strikeout. But, senior Trevor Bruton was then able to come up big for the Rams. He bounced a 2-2 offering into left to give the Rams a 3-0 lead.
“I had to grind out that at bat,” Bruton said. “I had two strikes on me and I fouled off a couple, then he jammed me but I was able to get a good enough piece of it.”
Starting pitcher Tate Hughes settled in nicely against the Mavericks, breezing through four scoreless innings to begin his outing.
“I’m very happy with him,” Dilley said. “Tate has always been the guy that no matter what happens he’s able to block it out and do his job.”
However, Hughes ran into some trouble in the fifth inning, with the Rams ahead 5-0.
Hughes began the inning by plunking the first batter he faced. The following batter, who was also the Mavericks starting pitcher, hit a single that was misplayed in right field. Instead of having runners on first and second with no outs, the Mavericks were able to score a run and advance the other runner to second. The Mavericks took further advantage of this miscue, plating two more runs in the inning cutting the CSU lead to 5-3 after the top half of the fifth.
“It happens, I couldn’t minimize but we ended up getting out of it without it being too bad,” Hughes said.
Hughes was able to bounce back and throw a scoreless 6th inning. Every out he produced in the inning was on the first pitch of the at bat.
“I had to battle but overall it was a good start,” Hughes said.
The Rams were able to tack on an insurance run in the bottom of the 6th via another Hart single hit cleanly to right.
All of a sudden, CSU was just three outs away from winning their second consecutive conference title. Though Hughes recovered from the inning, he seemingly lost a little control. Dilley decided to pull him after six strong innings. Only two of the three runs let up by Hughes were earned.
“His arm was starting to hurt him so I figured we’d give it to someone else who would hopefully get the job done,” Dilley said.
Dilley elected to send in junior middle-infielder Matt Smith to close the game. Smith also went 1-1 at the plate in the game with a sacrifice bunt, walk and RBI single.
“Matt Smith has been probably one of the most reliable guys we’ve put on the mound,” Dilley said. “We wanted to go to him because he’s the one who goes in there and throws strikes.”
Smith had recorded a groundout, let up an infield single, and worked a 1-2 count before hail started to pour onto the field.
“The weather didn’t really play much of a factor because I didn’t think they’d call the game at that point,” Smith said.
Just three pitches after hail began to fill the diamond, Smith forced the Mesa hitter to ground into a game ending 6-4-3 double play. The Rams had claimed their second conference title in as many years.
“It feels great, back-to-back and we’re going to regionals. We’re going to take it,” Hughes said.
The Rams will now head to regionals, where they may face Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Another potential opponent is the University of Iowa, who the Rams defeated on March 14th in non-conference play.
“We beat Iowa when we were down in Tampa,” Dilley said. “They ran through their conference but we did as well, so I think we’re looking good.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at email@example.com