Danny Brown's RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a tie and lifted New Mexico Highlands to an 8-7 win over Nebraska-Kearney on Friday night in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference baseball tournament.
The Cowboys (39-18) await the winner of a noontime Saturday game between Colorado State-Pueblo and Nebraska-Kearney. Highlands will play the victor at 3 for the league title and an automatic bid to the NCAA II Central Regionals. (Note that this is a correction from an earlier report, as the RMAC uses a flexible bracket system with contingencies for multiple possible outcomes.)
Christian Garcia hit 3 for 3 and scored twice for the Cowboys, and Chris Perez was 2 of 4 with three runs batted in.
With the exception of a shaky third inning -- in which each side scored five runs -- NMHU starting pitcher Derek Grieve had a decent outing, going 6.2 innings and allowing nine hits and six earned runs, striking out four. Reliever Derek Keith came in and held the Lopers hitless and scoreless through 2.1 frames, retiring the side in order in the top of the ninth to preserve the victory.
Control of the game shifted back and forth a couple times. NMHU had a solo run by David Bustillos (after Bustillos' leadoff triple) in the first inning. UNK rattled Grieve and company for five runs aided by error in the top of the third. But the Cowboys retaliated with five scores in their half of the inning to go up 6-5. Kearney scored two in the top of the seventh to nip ahead 7-6 before Joe Mulroy scored on a Kyle Gutchewsky hit to tie it in the bottom half of the inning. After Keith shackled the Lopers in the top of the eighth, Brown doubled to drive in Christian Garcia, representing what would end up the winning run.
UNK is the two-time defending RMAC tournament champion; the Lopers beat Highlands in last year's final.