In a series that saw them get outscored 24-42, mercy ruled twice and walk 30 batters in 32 innings, MSU Denver somehow managed to come out .500 in their first RMAC competition. Inconsistent pitching paired with tough starters on the other team led to four unique games that I’m not completely convinced weren’t played by eight different teams.
Following the series, they are 6-8, but 2-2 in conference play as they prepare to face off against New Mexico Highlands at home starting March 10.
Game One (March 3): MSU Denver: 6, CSU Pueblo: 19
The issues for the Runners started early in the series. Beecher Strube made his fourth start of the season, coming off a six-inning performance against Sioux Falls where he earned the win. In that game, he walked three and struck out three, throwing two wild pitches and struggled with control.
Against Pueblo, he did not escape the first. In only .2 innings, he walked two and allowed seven runs, only two of which were earned, on four hits. On one error and two fielder’s choices, the walks and a passed ball, the ThunderWolves sent 10 hitters to the plate in the inning, preventing only two from reaching base by one means or another.
Dayne Rowley took over after Strube’s early exit, lasting only 1.1 innings himself. In the second, he also allowed seven runs, however all his were earned. He walked four in that inning, serving up five base hits and a wild pitch. After the dust settled, the score was a daunting 14-0, much too large a margin to recover from.
Following Rowley, Cade Crader served as the workhorse, pitching from the third inning through the sixth and allowing only one run.
Offensively, the Runners didn’t break through until the third, when first baseman Cale O’Donnell singled and came all the way around to score on an error by center fielder Zach Hoffman with one on base.
Outside of that, CSU-Pueblo’s Kyle Lazcano dominated the Runners in his six innings of action. He struck out 12 of the 28 batters he faced, yielding only five hits and two unearned runs. He improved to 3-0 on the season and lowered his season ERA to 1.69, ranking third in the RMAC among starters while impressively being tied for the league lead in starts at five.
After Lazcano exited the game, MSU Denver put up a four spot in the seventh inning, helped by an error that led to two unearned runs. Catcher Nick McCasky gained two RBI on a single to left center. The scoring concluded in the bottom of the seventh after Pueblo responded with four runs of their own.
Roadrunner pitchers issued 12 walks, striking out six and allowing 15 hits in eight innings pitched. As a team, they committed two errors and three wild pitches.
Led by Lazcano, the ThunderWolves struck out 16 Runners, walking four and allowing only two earned runs.
Early pitching and defensive issues proved too much to overcome against one of the RMAC’s premier pitchers. After the second inning, the Runners outscored the Wolves 6-5.
Game 2 (March 4): MSU Denver: 5, CSU-Pueblo: 3
In a shortened, seven-inning game the Roadrunners displayed a much cleaner effort to even the series.
Javi Vega went six strong innings, allowing one run in the first and two in the second, but keeping the ThunderWolves off the board for the next four innings. He walked two batters, but both were in the second. He only struck out three, relying heavily on his defense. He induced six consecutive groundouts from the third inning to the fifth, and nine total in the game.
Jared Roley earned the save in the seventh, facing only three batters. He walked the first, hit the second and then induced a game-ending double play.
Cale O’Donnell got the scoring started in the first, driving in shortstop Jake Thurston for his 11th RBI of the season.
The Runners chased Pueblo’s starter Zach Hoffman in the fifth by putting up three runs in the frame.
Thurston’s efficient day from the leadoff spot was essential to the victory. He reached base three times, all on hits, and scored twice. His single in the fifth not only put him on base to score later in the inning, but moved Donny Ortiz, Jr. to third and directly enabled him to score on the next play on a sacrifice fly by Jake Ekman.
As a team, MSU Denver struck out only five times in 29 plate appearances, a stark contrast from the 16 punch-outs from the previous game. They capitalized with runners on base, stranding only three over the course of the game.
Interestingly, coming into this game the Runners had a .500 record in games where their starter had gone less than 6 innings, but a .200 record otherwise, rising to .333 following Vega’s performance. The best explanation for this is the offense and pitching being out of sync. Expect that number to normalize as more starters go deeper into games.
Vega outperformed his line score, as a home run and two walks in the second got him into early trouble. Following those innings, he allowed only four hits, averaging a sole baserunner per inning. It was the third time he had pitched beyond the fifth inning, but the first time this season he earned the win. That number will only grow if he continues to turn out solid performances like this one.
Game Three (March 4): MSU Denver: 1, CSU-Pueblo: 11
In game three, the defensive and pitching issues that plagued the Roadrunners in game one returned.
Runners starter Hunter Hogoboom lasted only three innings, giving up six runs but only two earned. He walked two and struck out three, while his defense committed two errors of their three total with him on the mound. He averaged six plate appearances per inning in the game.
In the remaining three innings of work before being mercy-ruled, the bullpen of Anthony Kaasch, Aaron Gjersee and Nic Hansen allowed five runs (all earned) on five hits, three walks and three strikeouts.
In the other dugout, ThunderWolves starter Jason Lighthall threw a seven-inning complete game, allowing only one run in the mercy rule. He did allow eight hits and saw his defense commit two errors, but still faced only seven batters more than the minimum. He did this by not issuing any walks and getting two Runners out on the bases; one by pickoff, another trying to stretch a single unsuccessfully. He also struck out seven and induced eight groundouts.
The top three slots in the MSU batting order did not produce, and the rest of the lineup faltered, as the 5-9 spots hit .200. Jake Thurston went 0-4 with two strikeouts and two runners left on base, while Jake Ekman and Sean Kennedy went a combined 3-6, but spread those hits across three separate innings.
The one bright spot in the game offensively was Cale O’Donnell, who went 2-3 with a double and drove in his 12th run of the season.
The defense, offense and pitching all put in subpar performances, which resulted in a tough blowout, dropping the Runner’s series record to 1-2, with only a chance of breaking even in the concluding game.
Game Four (March 5): MSU Denver: 12, CSU-Pueblo: 9 (11 Innings)
The Roadrunners triumphed in an intense, competitive, extra-inning game against the CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves.
The score saw a lead change or a tie on 10 distinct occasions in a truly back-and-forth affair. After the third inning, the score was 2-0 in CSU-Pueblo’s favor. After the sixth, they had retaken the lead at a score of 6-5. Between those points in time, the Roadrunners had taken the lead, been drawn to a tie, led, tied and lastly, was losing.
In the ninth, now down 7-5 and three outs from a loss, the Runners put together a three-run rally to take the lead, with a little help from the ThunderWolves. Adam Tulley reached base via a fielder’s choice, but then advanced on a wild pitch, then again on a passed ball, and scored on yet another wild pitch to pull the Runners within one. Then later in the inning, with the bases loaded, Jake Ekman went the other way to put a ball into right field and score two, making the score 8-7 and put the ThunderWolves in the dire position.
CSU-Pueblo would tie it in the bottom of the ninth, and both teams scored one in the 10th to make it 9-9 going into the 11th.
In that inning, with one out and one on, Cale O’Donnell launched a home run over the right field wall, his second of the game, to give the Runners a two-run lead. It also gave him 14 RBI on the season, which puts him in a tie for 4th place in that category in the RMAC, per the conference’s online statistics database. Tulley would later drive in Sean Kennedy with a single to make it 12-9 heading into the bottom of the frame.
As if his 4-7, two-homer day was enough, O’Donnell took the mound to close it out. He allowed two hits and a walk and ended the game with a bases-loaded flyout to earn the save.
At the end of it all, the Runners scored 12 runs by bashing 23 hits, while holding the Wolves to nine runs on 19 hits. Even with six extra outs to defend against, MSU still played errorless defense for the only time in the series.
Starter Tony Yacovetta went 4+ innings, giving up 5 runs, 4 earned. He walked 5 and struck out 2. He was lifted in the fifth after giving up a single and a walk to start the inning, both of whom would come around to score. 3 of the 5 runs charged to him were scored by runners who had reached base via a walk.
Collectively, the six Roadrunners pitchers allowed eight earned runs from nine total. They walked 10 batters while only striking out six. In innings 7-11, they allowed only three runs on seven hits, while walking and striking out three.
CSU-Pueblo used eight pitchers in the game, who earned 11 of the 12 runs given up. They walked six and struck out nine.
This victory pushes their record in games where the starting pitcher exits early over .500, at 4-3. Their bullpen and offense has carried the weight thus far, and successful starting pitching would not only make the team more stable but a bigger threat as well.
MSU Denver Three Stars of The Weekend
- Cale O’Donnell- 1B/P
O’Donnell’s monster weekend is perhaps the sole reason the Roadrunners came out with an even split in the series. His big bat, as it has done most of the season, led the way for the team in an irreplaceable way. Against CSU-Pueblo, he went 9-15 with six RBI, two home runs and a double. He did have at least one strikeout in each of the four games, which could be an area of improvement, but when you’re putting up the numbers he is, the strikeouts are negligible. To top it all off, he was directly responsible for defending the lead he created in the bottom of the 11th in game four, earning the save on the mound.
- Javi Vega- SP
Javi Vega was the only starting pitcher to effectively tame the ThunderWolves lineup in the series. In the game he started, they scored only three runs. In the other three, they scored 19, 11 and nine runs. He retired 10 consecutive batters, when he only faced 27. Several times this year he has kept the opponent under five runs in more than five innings pitched, and for the first time this season he was rewarded with the W.
- Cade Crader- RP
Most relievers don’t enter the game in the third inning. Most freshmen aren’t asked to stop the bleeding and give their team a glimmer of hope when there is very little to be had. This was the situation Crader was put in when he entered the first game of the series, with two of his teammates already the victims of seven runs each. Additionally, this was Crader’s second appearance of his career for the Roadrunners, the first of which he had surrendered six runs in as many innings in an outing that could’ve undoubtedly gone better. But he got after it anyway. Where a junior and a sophomore crashed and burned, he thrived. After CSU-Pueblo scored 14 runs into innings, they scored only one in the four innings Crader pitched. He walked two more than he struck out, but it’s hard to argue with the results. It was certainly a difficult, awkward position to put a rookie in, but he did all he could to get the Runners back in the game. While the outcome wasn’t ideal, it certainly wasn’t the fault of Crader.