They improve to 9-9 overall, reaching .500 for the first time since February 5, the conclusion of their first series of the season. In conference play, they are 5-3, good for a second-place tie in the RMAC.
The coordination of the team seemed to click this weekend in a very exciting way. Led by clutch, timely performances by both the pitching and hitting, three of the four games were decided by less than three runs in tight competition. While the defense could be improved and their walk-strikeout ratio leaving something to be desired on both sides of the ball, everyone seemed to be doing their jobs effectively, as demonstrated by the series victory.
The Runners pitching staff did an outstanding job limiting the Cowboys’ Jeremy McCarty, who was coming off a series against Colorado School of Mines where he went 13 for 16, earning not only RMAC player of the week honors, but was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s South Central Region hitter of the week. He was held to three hits in 16 at bats in Denver, evaporating his production from the third and fourth spots in the Cowboys lineup.
Cale O’Donnell launched two homers in the series, and Hunter Donaldson drove in seven runs, leading the Runners offense.
Game three ended in thrilling, walk-off fashion as the Runners came back from being down two runs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning of them game, thanks to a bases-clearing, three RBI single from Hunter Donaldson, who earned seven RBI over the course of the series.
Next weekend the Roadrunners take on Colorado School of Mines in Golden, who split their four game sets with New Mexico Highlands last weekend and with CSU-Pueblo this weekend, both teams that MSU Denver has competed well with.
Game One (March 10) MSU Denver 6, NMU Highlands 2
Led by a strong outing from starting pitcher Beecher Strube, MSU Denver set the tone for the series early.
After a forgettable outing against CSU-Pueblo where he did not escape the first inning, Strube bounced back impressively. He allowed an infield single in the top of the first, but wouldn’t cede another hit until the fifth, which turned out to be another harmless single. Of the first 23 Cowboys he faced, only four recorded hits, all singles with only two coming in the same inning. He struck out five in that stretch, only giving a free pass to one batter on a hit by pitch. He retired a stretch of 12 consecutive batters from the first to the fifth.
Strube exited the game only after losing his location in the seventh, walking two and throwing a wild pitch after retiring the first two hitters in the inning. He finished with 6.2 innings pitched, striking out five, walking two and being charged two earned runs after the walks came around to score. He would be credited with the victory, improving his record to 3-2 and dropping his ERA to 5.55.
The bullpen worked efficiently, as it has done for most the season. Jordan Smith took over for Strube, allowing two hits and striking out two in his 1.1 innings of work and Josh Moore threw a flawless ninth inducing three ground ball outs to lock down the victory.
Offensively, left fielder Hunter Donaldson provided the major blow, blasting an opposite field, three run homer in the third. He would go 2-4 on the day in total. It was his third multi hit game over the past five contests, and he ended the day hitting over .300 for the first time since February 11.
New Mexico Highlands’ Phil Trujillo started the game, allowing four earned runs in his four innings of work, walking two and striking out two.
Also of note, Cale O’Donnell went hitless for only the second time this season, striking out twice in his first at bat and dropping his season batting average to .404. Moore’s perfect ninth was his third performance in which he retired all the hitters he faced.
The Cowboys finished with two runs on two hits with zero errors, while the Roadrunners scored six runs on nine hits with one error.
Game Two (March 11): MSU Denver 3, NMU Highlands 2
In seven innings, Runners pitching was again the forefront, dictating the game.
Javi Vega turned in what is arguably his best performance of the season this far, going the distance in seven innings and allowing only two runs on two hits, season bests in both categories. He struck out four and
only issued one walk, facing only four over the minimum over the shortened affair. The only blemish was in the fourth, when he hit Luis Ornelas with a pitch and watched the next hitter Jeremy McCarty hit a home run, his RMAC leading sixth of the season, and the first hit Vega allowed in the game. Vega retired the first 11 hitters he faced, and retired the side in five separate innings.
In all five of his starts this year, Vega has gone at least five innings. While his ERA stands at 4.35, he has served as a solid workhorse and doubleheader game one starter, allowing his bullpen to rest. His 29 innings-pitched are tied for third most in the RMAC.
The offense managed only three runs, which turned out to be just enough to pull out the win. They managed nine hits in five innings against New Mexico Highlands starter Dakota Pacheco, but struck out seven times in that period. In the third, Jake Ekman doubled down the right field line, scoring Jake Thurston. He would cross home himself on a single by Hunter Donaldson. In the
fifth, Cale O’Donnell rebounded from his hitless outing in game one with a home run, his fourth on the season. This would turn out to be the deciding run in the game.
Jake Ekman and Sean Kennedy hit two doubles each, and with Marcus Bean were the only multi hit producers in the Runners lineup. Both stand at eight doubles on the season, only one behind the conference lead.
The Cowboys finished with two runs on two hits and an error, while the Runners ended with three runs on 10 hits, also with one error.
Game Three (March 11): MSU Denver 6, NMU Highlands 5
At one point down four runs, the Runners rallied back to walk off in seven innings in game three.
The Cowboys initiated the scoring in the third, scoring two off MSU Denver starter Hunter Hogoboom thanks to an RBI groundout by Jeremy McCarty and an RBI single off the bat of James Cordova. They tagged him for two more in the fourth on a two RBI double Joseph Cilladi. Hogoboom’s day would end after the fifth, giving him a line of four earned runs off eight hits with three walks and a strikeout. Jerome Bohannon II would take over in the sixth, allowing a run on two hits, but striking out the side. Anthony Kaasch would pitch around a hit in two walks to toss a scoreless seventh, leaving the bases loaded with the Runners down by two in their final at bats.
MSU Denver broke through in the fourth thanks to Cale O’Donnell’s second homer of the series, driving in Hunter Donaldson and making the score 4-2 in favor of New Mexico Highlands. This was O’Donnell’s fifth homer of the season, putting him alone in second place in the RMAC behind Jeremy McCarty.
They chipped away another run in the fifth, thanks to a single from Jake Ekman that scored Donny Ortiz, Jr. After the Cowboys scored an insurance run in the sixth, the Runners had their work cut out for them in the final frame.
With one out, Ortiz, Jr. hit a double in the left center gap. After him, Jakes Thurston and Ekman reached on consecutive errors, bringing Hunter Donaldson to the plate, who with one heroic swing of the bat launched a ball to the left-center warning track, scoring all three runners and winning the game. Ekman scored all the way from first thanks to unrelenting hustle around the bases and a slide into home that left him slightly rattled after colliding with catcher, but he quickly recovered to celebrate the walk off win.
Donaldson earned his second three-RBI game of the series after putting up two hits. Kaasch earned the victory thanks to his grit in escaping the jam in the top of the seventh.
The Runners ended with six runs on seven hits and an error, while the Cowboys scored five runs on eleven hits and committed two errors, both in the pivotal seventh frame.
Game Four (March 12): MSU Denver 8, NMU Highlands 10
If you left this game before the sixth, which the Runners came into trailing 6-1, you missed the good parts.
On a windy Sunday, the ball was flying around the yard allowing for 13 extra base hits across both lineups, including three home runs, all off Roadrunners bats.
In the early going, it would be the Cowboys who would gain the edge, putting up four runs in three innings off MSU Denver starter Tony Yacovetta and forcing his exit before the fourth. After they added two more in two innings off Cade Crader, they had the five-run advantage going into the sixth as the Runners struggled early against starter Max Siedlecki. He allowed only three hits in the first five frames.
However, in the sixth things started to unravel as shortstop Jake Thurston led off the inning with a home run. The Runners would rally for three more runs in the inning, chasing Siedlecki from the game after a two-run homer by catcher Marcus Bean reduced the lead to one.
Derek Stimpson, who took over for Crader after the fifth, then cruised through the next three innings, striking out seven of the 12 hitters he faced, allowing only one hit but being charged with an earned run after he walked Joseph Cordova in the ninth and was pulled, who would come around to score.
Back to back doubles in the seventh from Thurston and outfielder Jake Ekman resulted in two runs, and an RBI single from third baseman Adam Tulley in the eighth put New Mexico Highlands in
the hot seat, down two going into the ninth.
After Stimpson’s exit, Jared Roley walked the next hitter to put runners on first and second, then gave up an RBI single by Cordova and was removed from the game. His replacement Josh Moore, who pitched in game one, then allowed two hits, including a two-run triple by Luis Ornelas. Four runs scored, giving the Cowboys a two-run edge and only three outs away from a victory.
The magic from the previous game would not return for the Runners in the bottom of the ninth, as they managed no runs in the inning despite putting two runners on.
Freshman DH Dylan Nelson went three for four on the day with a home run.
The Cowboys finished with 10 runs on 13 hits and played clean defense, while the Runners tallied 8 runs on 15 hits and two errors.
Three Stars of the Weekend
- Hunter Donaldson-LF
Donaldson’s bat showed up in a big way, as an argument could be made that both the game one and game three victories could be attributed to him. His three-run homer in game one provided more runs than the entire NMU Highlands lineup, and his walk-off three run single was well placed just enough to score all three runners to end the game. His clutch weekend is a welcome development in an already stacked top of the lineup.
- Javi Vega– SP
A complete game two-hitter feels like enough justification to put Vega in this slot. As I noted before, his ability to put the team on his shoulders and not only rest the bullpen to begin doubleheaders, but give his team an opportunity to win as well is really all you can ask of a player weekend in and weekend out, maybe even too much to ask of most people. On top of this, he seems to not being experiencing any fatigue as the season continues, turning in what is likely his best game so far in this campaign.
- Derek Stimpson– RP
Stimpson’s performance would be impressive even without context. He carved up seven hitters in 3.1 innings, good for a K/9 of 2.10, which is probably most apt described as “elite.” His 1.41 K/9 on the season is nothing to scoff at, either. However, he picked a good time to have his best performance of the season to date, as well. The only run he was charged with came after his exit, and in the three innings before that he froze the Cowboys lineup, enabling his offense to turn a five-run deficit into a two-run lead. Before he entered the game, Highlands had scored in four of five innings. He put up goose eggs for three consecutive innings. While the final outcome wasn’t ideal as the Runners took the loss, they were likely only in the game thanks to Stimpson stopping the bleeding.