By Matthew Lofton
NMHU Sports Information
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The New Mexico Highlands baseball team (31-18) started its second season on Thursday at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament in Grand Junction, Colo.
The winner of the RMAC Tournament will get an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament and the South Central Region, which will be at a site to be determined.
The second-seeded Cowboys was to begin the tournament at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against third-seeded Colorado State-Pueblo. The tournament is condensed from previous years, with only four teams participating in the annual double-elimination tournament.
Highlands lost the first two games of the year against the ThunderWolves before winning the next five contests between the two teams. CSU-Pueblo won the final contest.
Going the distance
Throughout the year, the Highlands baseball team played 25 nine-inning games while taking part in 24 games scheduled for seven innings (one seven-inning game actually went eight because of extra innings). The Cowboys were 17-8 in games that go nine innings, including a 15-4 mark in RMAC play. Highlands only went 14-10 in seven-inning games, including 13-7 in RMAC play.
The offense does better in nine-inning games, as the Cowboys are hitting .334 as compared to .316 in seven innings. Redshirt junior Matthew Chavez, who is now third in the nation in batting average at .458, is hitting an amazing .488 in the longer games, compared to .400 in the shorter contests.
Highlands also gets going in the later innings. If you take the total runs this season in the first five innings, the Cowboys are being outscored 225-203. Meanwhile, take the same statistic for innings 6-9 and Highlands is outscoring its opponents 137-92 (including 16-8 in the ninth inning).
Ol’ Ruff and Ready
Earning starts in four of his first five appearances on the mound, senior Ben Ruff was 0-3 with an 11.09 earned run average, allowing 25 earned runs in 18.2 innings pitched.
That all changed when Ruff came out of the bullpen.
Seven different pitchers, including Ruff, had exactly one save through 30 games. But on April 5, Ruff recorded his second save of the season. In his last 11 appearances, Ruff has a 1-1 record, seven saves and a 2.84 ERA. It all started with a trio of saves against the Rangers, with Ruff allowing no earned runs and throwing just 38 pitches in three innings of work that weekend.
Give me three
Despite coming into the final series of the year among the national leaders in triples with 20, the Cowboys only had one three-bagger in the previous nine games. Thanks to six triples this past weekend — including three in one inning — the Cowboys vaulted to third in the nation with 26.
Senior Jordan Goliat hit two in the nine-inning game against Metro State May 2 after having no three-baggers in the previous 34 games on the season.
In fact, in the eighth inning of that game, Highlands hit three triples in four at-bats. NMHU is tied for the second most in one inning in NCAA Division II history and the most in a single inning since 2001.
Not only is the weather heating up; so are the Cowboys. Since the beginning of April, the Cowboys are 17-3 with two RMAC series sweeps and three more 3-1 records. Over that stretch, junior Greg Hansen is 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA and two complete games while senior Ben Ruff is 1-1 with seven saves. Junior Zach Settles is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
Five Cowboys are hitting above .500 in that span, led by redshirt junior Matthew Chavez hitting .528 with 28 hits with 10 walks, and eight hit-by-pitch reaches. Junior Andrew Ratterman is batting .415. After a slow start to the season, senior Jordan Goliat is batting .375. Rounding out the people hitting above .350 in that span is senior Justin Rodriguez (.362) and junior Colby Wilmer (.350).
Since April 1, Highlands is hitting .346 while its opponents have hit .305. The Cowboys pitchers have a 5.30 ERA compared to its opponents’ 8.44.