Highlands outplayed Colorado Mesa in several statistical categories Sunday but came up just short in the most important one — the scoreboard.
The Mavericks, ranked 17th in NCAA Division II baseball going into the four-game weekend series, held on for a 4-3 win that completed a sweep over the Cowboys in Grand Junction, Colo.
Mesa improved to 19-5 overall and 13-1 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Highlands dropped to 14-12 and 10-6, respectively.
NMHU scored one run in the top of the ninth inning but needed at least one more to extend the game. Mesa closer Garrett Carpenter got outs on two of the three batters he faced, including Matt Gualco, whose fly ball to left field ended the game.
Highlands outhit the Mavericks 11-10 and committed one error compared to three for the home team. That made it arguably the Cowboys’ best performance of the weekend after losses by scores of 11-6, 11-1 and 4-1.
But it wasn’t quite enough to overtake a Colorado Mesa team that is off to an exceptional start.
Mesa’s versatile Garrett Carpenter — who pitches, plays outfield and hits — drew first blood, singling to score Erik Kozel in the first inning. Kevin Mitchell followed by cracking a Chris Prokupek pitch on an 0-2 count, looping the ball over the wall in right centerfield. The homer plated two runs and Mesa led 3-0 until the top of the fourth.
That’s when Highlands’ Tyler Hayes doubled to score Thomas Lyons. Josh McMahon almost made it home as well but was thrown out.
Mesa made it 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Garrett Carpenter scored while the Cowboys were caught off guard by a Nate Robertson steal of second base.
In the seventh, NMHU slugger Jordan Goliat belted the first pitch he saw for an RBI double, getting Scott Frazier across home plate to make it 4-2.
Hayes pulled Highlands within one run thanks to a fielder’s choice put into play by Kyle Davis in the top of the ninth. The play cut the margin to 4-3 but also cost a precious out, as Jarod Jamerson was thrown out at second.
Hayes was 2 for 2 with a sacrifice bunt and one RBI, Lyons and Derek Ward were both 2 for 4, and Gualco was 2 of 3 with a double and two walks.
Robertson led CMU with a 3-for-4 showing at the plate.
Prokupek (3-2) went seven innings and gave up four earned runs on nine hits and one walk, striking out six.
CMU’s Kyle Davis (2-0) earned the pitching win, going five and allowing one earned run on seven hits and two walks with two strikeouts. Carpenter, the fourth pitcher used by the Mavs, picked up his fifth save.
Highlands and head coach Steve Jones return home to host Colorado School of Mines this week. The series begins a day earlier than usual — with a 3 p.m. start Thursday at Brandt Park. A doubleheader follows at noon on Friday, and then the series concludes with a noontime game Saturday. Admission is free to the public.
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Highlands’ softball series at Colorado-Colorado Springs was abbreviated to three games from the scheduled four.
The host Mountain Lions swept those three games 16-4, 21-2, and 15-3 on Saturday.
NMHU will host RMAC pod play this weekend at Cowgirl Field, taking on Chadron State (Neb.) and Black Hills State (S.D.). Games are set for 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.
That will be part of a season-long six-game homestand for Shellie Broyles’ team. The Cowgirls also host non-conference foe Eastern New Mexico in a doubleheader on April 3.