Late-inning rallies in baseball are usually a loud, emotionally draining affair.
Saturday, as CSU-Pueblo staged a stunning come-from-behind win over Southwest Minnesota State in the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament in Grand Junction, the ThunderWolves managed to be both docile and emotional at once, coming back from a 14-8 deficit after seven innings to emerge the victor, besting the Mustangs 15-14 in what may have been the most surreal rally in the history of the program.
Southwest Minnesota jumped to a 7-1 lead after three innings, and left the ThunderWolves searching for answers as the Pack yanked starter Jesus Hernandez (Sr., Tucson, Ariz.) and tried with all their might to shrug off a huge hole in what could have been the team's final game of the season. The Pack bench did its best to simply will itself into contention for a win.
A pair of home runs did that trick, the first a towering shot by Matt Wismann (Sr., Palo Alto, Calif.) over scoreboard at Sam Suplizio Field in the fourth inning, and the second, a three-run bomb by Tony Pechek (Sr., Pueblo, Colo.) in the fifth inning, giving the Pack new life as they trailed 9-7 after five innings.
As CSU-Pueblo managed to keep within striking distance, the Mustangs nearly ended any shot at a comeback when Derek West drilled a three-run home run over the leftfield fence to buoy Southwest Minnesota State to a 14-8 lead.
The Pack dugout calmly requested a big number on the board in the eighth inning, as just as calmly, it was delivered.
The Mustangs issued four walks in the eighth, walking in two runs as the quietly intense yet docile ThunderWolf dugout, preparing itself for defeat, slowly came to life as it trailed 14-11. Then a two-run single by Juan Martinez (Jr., Cariciao, Venezuela) jolted the Pack back to life, prompting the team into rally-mode as the six-run deficit was suddenly trimmed to one, 14-13, during the five-run eighth.
Sensing their time was near, a stellar relief pitching job by Scott Harshman (Sr., Pueblo, Colo.), who gave up just one hit in 1-2/3 innings of work, set up the biggest play of the afternoon - a diving catch down the rightfield line by Jason Fobes (Sr., Longmont, Colo.), robbing the Mustangs of a back-breaking base hit and ending the 8th inning.
From there, you could sense it was all destiny.
Mary Sayas (Jr., Las Vegas, Nev.) reached base on a single to rightfield, leading to a game-tying double down the leftfield line by Fobes. Pechek followed suit with an RBI double of his own, and suddenly, and remarkably, Mario Mattivi (Sr., Pueblo, Colo.), the Pack's normal number-one starter who pitched in the ThunderWolves' tournament-opening loss against Mesa State Thursday, was in a save situation. The Pack ace hurled a scoreless ninth inning to secure one of the most improbable wins in school history.
With the win, CSU-Pueblo faced Wayne State (Neb.) late Saturday night in an elimination game. The winner will face tourney host Mesa State, who has yet to lose in the tournament, in what could be a pair of games Saturday for the Central Region Championship.
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