GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - In head coach Stan Sanchez's career as CSU-Pueblo's baseball coach, he had never seen what occurred Sunday.
A CSU-Pueblo baseball team dogpiling in a championship celebration on the home site of bitter conference rival, Colorado Mesa.
CSU-Pueblo used timely hitting and gutsy pitching performances, including a seven-inning outing from eventual RMAC Tournament MVP Jeremiah Struble (Sr., Divide, Colo.) to outlast Colorado Mesa 7-5, claiming the Pack's first RMAC Tournament title since 2009 and its sixth tournament championship in school history. The win also gives the ThunderWolves a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament next week.
CSU-Pueblo entered the day without a loss after beginning the tournament with three straight wins, meaning the host Mavericks would need two wins to wrest away the RMAC Tournament Championship.
In that opening game, Colorado Mesa pitcher Joey Danner threw a masterpiece, striking out seven in a complete game performance as the Mavericks won 6-1, setting up the winner-take-all championship game.
In the championship game, Mesa jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Struble, who seemed to be showing wear after starting again on just three days rest. Struble pitched a complete game win against Metro State Thursday.
However, in the bottom of the 2nd, the Pack finally got the big inning they had been searching for.
The first four batters of the inning got on base, and a Curtis Cowell (Sr., Monrovia, Calif.) RBI-single started the scoring barrage. Brandon Evans (Sr., Las Vegas, Nev.) cleared the bases with a two-run double, and the Pack took a 3-2 lead. They added to it by plating another two runs, coming on an RBI-double by Chase Lacomb (Sr., Las Vegas, Nev.) and an RBI-single by Mario Sanchez (Jr., Tucson, Ariz.), and the Pack suddenly had a 5-2 lead and was in control.
With the score in the Pack's favor, Struble settled down considerably on the mound. He retired 14 of the next 17 batters heading into the 7th inning, but hit two Mesa batters to load the bases and bring in another Pack front-line starter in relief, Mike Fabrizio (Jr., Pueblo, Colo.).
Fabrizio, just two nights removed from his start, initially allowed two of the runners to score on an error to cut the lead to 6-5, but retired the inning and held the lead heading into the 8th.
Sensing blood in the water, the Pack did what it needed to preserve the lead in the final innings. Sanchez blasted the Pack's first and only home run of the tournament over the leftfield fence to stretch the lead to 7-5.
Then, in the top of the 8th inning, following a pair of leadoff hits by Colorado Mesa, Lacomb stopped a definite RBI base hit on a diving play toward the second base bag, engineering a 4-6 lineout double play that seemed to take the air out of the Mavericks. CSU-Pueblo would retire the Mavericks' final four batters to seal the win.
While the tournament championship marks the sixth tournament title in program history, overall it is the 10th conference title (including regular season championships) in program history.
CSU-Pueblo now awaits its seeding in the NCAA Division II South Central Regional Tournament. The site of the tournament will be announced Monday.