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What a year

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By Dave Kavanaugh

A dream season for New Mexico Highlands University baseball came to an end Saturday night in Farmington courtesy of the underrated St. Cloud State Huskies.

St. Cloud State cut a late rally short and dealt Highlands a 12-8 loss in an elimination game that also determined who would face Minnesota State in the NCAA Division II Central Regional final on Sunday at Ricketts Park.

NMHU finished 41-13 overall.

Entering the regional as the sixth seed, the Huskies were responsible for both of top seed NMHU’s defeats in the six-team, double-elimination affair.

St. Cloud State upset the host Cowboys 11-2 on Thursday night, forcing them to fight through the losers’ bracket.

Highlands came back nicely, trouncing fifth seed Nebraska-Kearney 9-3 on Friday.

Then on Saturday the Cowboys eliminated the only other Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference team left in the bracket, edging archrival Mesa State 11-8. The Mavericks were the third seed in the regional.

In the rematch with the Huskies, Highlands led first after Oscar Sigala’s solo home run — his second of the day after a grand slam vs. Mesa State — in the top of the second.

But SCSU nudged ahead with two runs in the third and five in the fourth for a 7-1 lead. The Huskies’ pitching depth proved valuable, scattering Highlands’ hits throughout the game and limiting run production.

A game-by-game rundown of NMHU’s three-day trek in the NCAA Central Regional:

Huskies 11, Cowboys 2

With aces Drew Vassil and David Deminsky on the mound for their respective sides, this was a pure pitchers’ duel early on. The game stayed scoreless until St. Cloud State struck in the top of the fourth. Jordan Smith popped a two-run homer against Vassil. Highlands’ premier power hitter Jason Carr answered with a solo bomb to make it 2-1.

Another two-run homer, this one by Sam Radbil in the top of the sixth, reignited the Husky offense. SCSU led 7-1 midway through the eighth.

NMHU’s Christian Garcia hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth. But the Huskies tagged reliever Andrew Herrman with four insurance runs in the top of the ninth and their own closer Ryan Schwenke allowed no further damage.

Garcia, Brad Morgan and Kyle Gutchewsky each finished 2 for 4 to lead Highlands. Vassil (12-2) allowed seven runs — four earned — on 12 hits and no walks with three strikeouts.

Cowboys 9, Lopers 3

David Bustillos homered twice and drove in three runs, providing ample run support for pitcher Trent Evins.

Nebraska-Kearney scored twice in the first inning and led 2-0 through two frames.

Scott Heath scored on an error in the top of the third, making it 2-1. And in the next inning, Brad Morgan scored on a wild pitch to tie the game. The go-ahead run came in the next at-bat, as Oscar Sigala singled to plate Kyle Gutchewsky. UNK stopped the bleeding with an inning-ending double play.

In the seventh, Bustillos smashed a home run to right field, scoring himself and Phillip Rodriguez.

Danny Brown and Morgan opened the eighth with back-to-back solo home runs, spelling the end for UNK relief pitcher Austin Parker.

Bustillos and Carr also pounded back-to-back solo shots to open the ninth and put Highlands ahead 9-2. Luke Stamp’s solo homer in the bottom of the ninth was all the rally the Lopers could muster.

Leading Cowboy hitters were Bustillos (2 of 4, three RBI, two runs), Carr (2 for 5, two RBI, one run), Brown (2 of 5, one RBI, one run), Gutchewsky (2 for 4, one run) and Rodriguez (2 of 3, one run).

Evins went eight innings and held UNK to two runs on eight hits, four walks and seven strikeouts.

Cowboys 11, Mavericks 8

Sigala’s grand slam fueled a strong start for Highlands, and Brown posted another fine outing of pitching and hitting as the Cowboys eliminated their archrival Mesa State.

Sigala’s big shot, off of Mesa’s Dylan Evans, came with two outs in the bottom of the first and with Brown, Garcia and Gutchewsky on board.

Bustillos doubled and eventually scored on a wild pitch in the third to make it 5-0.

The Mavericks finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth when Chase Moore drove in Austin Buck.

Thomas DeAngelis’ double plated Heath in the bottom of the inning to answer.

In the fifth, Gutchewsky cracked a two-run single, scoring Carr and Brown for an 8-1 lead.

Lucas Shaw scored Jeff Popick with a double off Brown in the sixth. Derek Grieve replaced Brown on the mound and Joe Schmidtbauer greeted him by hitting a three-run homer to center field, trimming the margin to 8-5.

But Carr retaliated with his own three-run blast in the bottom of the inning. Carr, Bustillos and DeAngelis scored on the play.

Brown led NMHU’s bats with a 3 for 4, two-run day. He pitched five and a third innings, giving up six hits and four runs with three walks and three strikeouts.

Sigala was 2 for 4 with four RBI and one run. Bustillos and DeAngelis had two hits apiece.

Huskies 12, Cowboys 8

As with its loss to SCSU on day one, Highlands had trouble stringing hits together to push runs across.

Sigala’s solo homer in inning two gave the Cowboys a lead that lasted until the Huskies scored twice in the bottom of the third — once on Smith’s single to plate Brian Hansen, then when Joey Benke made it home on an error.

The Huskies’ five-run fourth made it a 7-1 spread.

With three runs in the fifth, NMHU nearly climbed out of the hole, but SCSU dug it deeper by scoring the next four runs.

Nine Cowboy hitters had one hit apiece, and Brown drove in three runs.

Tyler Wichmann allowed nine runs — seven earned — on 10 hits and four walks in five innings; he struck out two.