In a league tournament filled with upsets, New Mexico Highlands was dispatched to the loser's bracket Thursday night, tripping up 5-3 to the fifth-seeded Nebraska-Kearney Lopers.
The Cowboys (37-18) will play Regis at noon on Friday in an elimination game. The winner stays alive for a shot at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference baseball title and a berth in the NCAA Division II Central Regional. The loser goes home.
UNK moves on to play Metro State, a 19-8 winner vs. Regis on Thursday. The Lopers look to continue their good fortunes in the postseason after having won the last two RMAC tournaments. They are the only team that has yet to lose in this year's bracket.
Unlike some other games in this tournament, Thursday night's NMHU vs. Nebraska-Kearney battle began as a defensive struggle.
Neither team scored until the Lopers' Darin Grace made it home on a Luke Stamp hit in the top of the third. UNK added two runs in the fourth when Mike Stamp doubled to bring in Andrew Haake and Leon DeWinter. Those runs came on a two-out rally for the Lopers.
UNK starting pitcher Jared Loschen had a no-hitter going until the bottom of the fifth, when Joe Mulroy singled. A couple of miscues by the Lopers -- a fielding error and a passed ball -- enabled the Cowboys' Danny Brown to score and moved Mulroy into scoring position. But three consecutive outs ended the inning.
Highlands tied it up at 3-3, however, in the sixth inning. Christian Garcia, Jason Carr and Chris Perez loaded the bases on Loschen. Mulroy doubled to left, scoring two runs.
Grace broke the tie by singling in the seventh, beating a pickoff try to reach third, and then scoring on a Luke Stamp single.
And it was Grace who pushed the Kearney lead to two runs in the ninth, leading off with a single, advancing to second on a groundout and then darting home on a Luke Stamp base hit.
The Cowboys failed to score over the last three innings, and Ricky Muir picked up the save after shutting NMHU out the last two.
Loschen (6-5) went seven frames and gave up just five hits and one earned run. He walked three and struck out six.
Luke Stamp went 5 for 5 with three RBI.
Oscar Sigala and Joe Mulroy had two hits apiece, and Jason Carr one hit, and that was it for the usually prolific Cowboy offense.
Gilbert Palacios (5-2) absorbed the loss, going seven innings with nine hits, one walk and two earned runs; he struck out six.