Baseball weekend recap: Roadrunners take two from UNC as RMAC race intensifies

Senior outfielder Sean Kennedy (30)swings at a pitch while junior Donny Ortiz, Jr. looks in on March 12, 2017. The Runners lost to New Mexico Highlands 10-8 at the Regency Athletic Complex. Photo by Geoff Ziegler. gziegler@msudenver.edu

The Roadrunners baseball team must be optimistic after a successful taste of Division I competition, defeating University of Northern Colorado two games to one over the weekend.

The starting pitching was the story for MSU Denver, as Beecher Strube, Javi Vega and Derek Stimpson all turned in lights out performances. In game one, Strube tossed five innings of one run baseball while a late bullpen implosion erased a 5-1 lead. Vega threw a scoreless seven innings on four hits, while Stimpson threw a complete game shutout over seven innings as well. He would only allow two hits and faced only four over the minimum in his outing.

Trent Maloney continues to set the tone offensively for the team, going 6-for-12 and driving in three of the team’s 12 runs in the series. Adam Tulley went 3-for-3 in his lone start in game three, driving in one run and scoring another. Hunter Donaldson and Cale O’Donnell stayed hot, collecting five hits each. Jake Thurston collected hits in the first two games, but saw his 22-game hit streak come to an end in game three, five shy of the school record.

Despite a winning weekend, the out of conference play dropped the Runners to the fifth spot in the RMAC standings, trading places with Colorado School of Mines. Though both schools have a 12-12 record, Mines’ 20-17 overall outpaces MSU’s 17-19, at least temporarily slotting them into final RMAC tournament seed.

With 12 games left in the season, the Runners have their work cut out for them to make a push for the playoffs, with four games each against University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado Christian University and juggernaut Colorado Mesa University. The Runners swept their two contests against UCCS last weekend but still stands in the third seed in the standings with a 16-12 conference record. Colorado Christian is at 10-14 and seventh in the standings, but a few good showings against Mines, the Runners and the out-of-contention New Mexico Highlands could position them in a spot to challenge for the playoffs. Colorado Mesa, at 30-8 overall and 22-2 in conference will prove to be the Runners’ biggest challenge in the regular season, and hopefully a playoff preview.

While no team has officially clinched a playoff spot, Mesa will more than likely be there, almost definitely with the top seed. Regis University, in the two seed, is riding a four-game losing streak and is making the race interesting with an only one game lead over UCCS. Realistically, any of the current two through seven seeds could make an appearance in the playoffs or collapse and hand wins to other teams making a push.

The Runners, who are 14-7 at home, have eight of their remaining games at the Regency Athletic Complex, taking the final road trip next weekend to Colorado Springs as they try to fight their way back into a tournament spot.

Game One: MSU Denver 6, Northern Colorado 8

Beecher Strube’s fantastic performance was overshadowed by seven runs after the seventh inning for Northern Colorado.

Capped by a walk off, three run homer from Alex Kiel (who put together five total RBI on the day), the Bears erased a four-run deficit they had coming to bat in the eighth.

Strube’s five innings saw only one run, on a sacrifice fly by Kiel in the fourth. He allowed only five hits, walking one and striking out one. He worked out of a two out, bases loaded jam in the second after plunking two consecutive hitters, stranding seven base runners over the course of his outing, with three of those in scoring position.

After throwing 85 pitches, Strube was relieved by Jared Roley, whose only blemish was a walk in his two innings of work. He struck out two. When Jordan Smith entered the game in the eighth, the Runners held a 5-1 lead. However, he would end his night without recording an out after allowing a homer, double and triple in the lone three hitters he faced, allowing two runs to score before being pulled in favor of Josh Moore. Moore limited the damage by allowing only one run, but walked three in the ninth, allowing a sacrifice fly and the game ending home run to turn what appeared to be a sure win into a loss.

Trent Maloney’s three hit game gave him two runs and two RBI, while Jake Ekman, Cale O’Donnell, Marcus Bean and Hunter Donaldson all recorded two hit games of their own. Donaldson, Ekman, O’Donnell and Jake Thurston all recorded doubles.

The Runners’ fifth inning was their highest producing one, scoring three runs on a Maloney single, a Sean Kennedy sacrifice fly and Marcus Bean reached on error.

MSU Denver recorded six runs on 13 hits, while UNC tallied eight times on nine hits.

Game Two: MSU Denver 2, Northern Colorado 1

Javi Vega once again dominated, earning his sixth win of the season in a close contest.

The sophomore went seven shutout innings, the first time this season he has not allowed a run, striking out seven hitters in the process, tying for a season and career high. He struck out the side in the first, and had five strikeouts through the first three innings. On the day, he walked two and allowed four hits, but only faced five hitters over the minimum for his outing. His season ERA of 3.57, while elevated by several poor performances, is still good for sixth in the RMAC.

Jerome Bohannon II assumed the mound in the eighth, recording three ground outs in the inning to nullify a one out single. He began the ninth, but was lifted after walking the lead off batter and was charged with a run after Cale O’Donnell allowed a double that scored the runner. O’Donnell would walk the next hitter, but recovered and struck out the next three to end the ballgame with the tying and go ahead runs on base with nobody out. It was O’Donnell’s third save of the year.

The offense was sparse, but just enough to pull out the win. Donny Ortiz, Jr. scored both of MSU Denver’s runs, on a wild pitch in the third and a Trent Maloney single in the eighth. Ortiz did not record a hit but walked twice. O’Donnell and Marcus Bean both led the team with two hits. Bean and Jake Thurston both recorded doubles. The Runners struck out six times but drew three walks in the contest.

The Runners scraped out the one run victory with seven hits, one more than the Bears.

Game Three: MSU Denver 4, Northern Colorado 0

Derek Stimpson has arrived.

As the senior closes in on his final games, he’s going out with a bang, tossing a complete game shutout to add on to his other impressive performances as of late. It was the second complete game shutout of his career, the other one coming on February 15, 2014, more than three years ago.

In this game, he dominated. He allowed only two hits, both singles, and two walks while striking out six, facing only four over the minimum. He retired at least five consecutive batters three times over the outing, making it impossible for the Bears to build any momentum. The only time they truly threatened was in the fourth, when a walk and an error put two runners on. However, Stimpson retired the next two on soft contact to escape the jam. He tallied to strikeouts in the seventh to lock down the goose egg.

Offensively, only four players recorded hits for the Runners. However, three of those four recorded multiple hits, with Adam Tulley swatting three singles. He scored on a wild pitch in the second and drove in a run in the third. Hunter Donaldson recorded two RBI on a first inning single, and the entire game’s offense was fulfilled before the fourth inning.

Jake Thurston’s 22 game hit streak came to an end, concluding a stretch where he went 30-for-78, hitting .384. He last went hitless on March 3, well over a month ago. However, after drawing a walk in the second, he extended his on base streak to 24 games.

The Runners clinched the series victory with four runs on eight hits, holding the Bears scoreless on two hits.

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