New Mexico Highlands’ baseball team bolstered its hold on first place in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference on Sunday with a doubleheader sweep of host Nebraska-Kearney.
And longtime NMHU coach Steve Jones earned his 400th win, extending his own all-time Cowboy baseball career coaching record.
The Cowboys (21-6 overall, 11-3 RMAC) won 11-5 and 7-5 to finish the four-game road series. Highlands had split Friday’s twinbill — a 9-6 win followed by a 6-5 loss. The teams had been originally scheduled to play Saturday but weather bumped the games to Sunday at Kearney’s Memorial Field.
Jason Carr rocked his fourth home run of the series and drove in a game-high three runs to highlight the Cowboy offensive output in Sunday’s opener. He finished 2 for 5 with two runs to go along with his three RBI.
David Bustillos went 3 of 5 with two RBI and two runs, and Kyle Gutchewsky was 3 for 5 with two RBI and a run.
With Steven Becerra on the mound for NMHU, the Cowboys carried a 4-0 lead midway through the fifth inning of the nine-inning contest. But UNK rallied with three runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 4-3 score. Relief pitcher David Saiz got the Cowboys out of the inning, but the Lopers managed to tie the game at 5-5 after outscoring Highlands 2-1 in the sixth.
But the seventh inning belonged to NMHU. Christian Garcia led off with a double, and he scored the go-ahead run on Bustillos’ RBI single. Later, Phillip Rodriguez drove in Bustillos. On the next at-bat, Carr homered to right field, scoring Gutchewsky, Rodriguez and himself. The five-run frame left the Cowboys ahead 10-5, and they’d add an insurance run in the eighth on a Danny Brown RBI single to score Bustillos.
Saiz (2-1) wound up with the pitching win, and closer Derek Grieve picked up a save.
The game was a defensive gem for NMHU, which turned three double plays and committed one error over nine innings.
The win was Jones’ 400th.
In the series finale, the Cowboys got off to a fast start — four runs to open the game — and never trailed.
The Lopers rallied for three runs in their final at-bats, trimming a five-run deficit to two.
NMHU field player-turned-pitcher Danny Brown (2-0) threw another strong game. He scattered seven hits, three walks and two earned runs over a seven-inning complete game, and he struck out four.
Garcia, batting leadoff, hit 3 of 4 with two runs and one RBI; in contrast to the prolific team offense of the first game, Garcia was the only Cowboy with multiple hits.
Carr hit his fifth home run of the series (and 10th of the season) and had three RBI.
Carr’s round-tripper was a three-run blast in the top of the first inning. Brown’s sacrifice fly had just scored Garcia from third to give NMHU a 1-0 lead. Then Carr sent A O’Connor’s strike over the left field wall, getting Rodriguez, Bustillos and himself home.
Winners of seven of their last eight, Highlands and coach Steve Jones will host Colorado School of Mines beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday at Brandt Park.
Elsewhere in Nebraska on Sunday, Chadron State swept an RMAC softball doubleheader from visiting NMHU. The Eagles won 4-3 and 3-0.
The Cowgirls led Sunday’s first game 3-2 going into the seventh inning, when the Eagles scored twice for the walk-off win. Andin Moran and Diana Garcia both went 3 for 4 to lead NMHU. Ashley Paiz (2-2) took the pitching loss, allowing nine hits and four earned runs, striking out four in 6.2 innings.
CSC’s K Pinder shut out the Cowgirls in the series finale, limiting them to five hits and one walk with three strikeouts over seven innings.
Tanya Groff (1-7) had a solid effort in defeat, going six frames and allowing six hits, no walks and three earned runs.
Highlands (10-15, 6-10) and Chadron (12-15, 9-9) had split on Saturday, with the former taking the opener 11-4 and the latter prevailing 8-5 in the nightcap.
NMHU visits Adams State this weekend.