By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
The UNO baseball team clawed its way through the losers’ bracket but fell two wins shy of the MIAA tournament championship held May 12 through 15. After an opening round win in Kansas City, the Mavs dropped their next game to Emporia State, then rebounded for two more wins before losing to eventual champion Central Missouri.
Though UNO finished the season 35-20 with five wins over ranked teams, the Mavs didn’t receive a berth in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Central Missouri advanced all the way to the Division II College World Series but was eliminated in two games.
“Our guys played their fannies off but we let too many games slip away,” said Head Coach Bob Herold. “[We] didn’t win enough games in the regular season. It was a great bunch of guys, we just didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
Third-seeded UNO opened the tournament against Washburn. Junior Joe Holtmeyer, the school’s career strikeout leader, took the mound and cruised through 6 1-3 innings while striking out seven to bring his career total to 323.
Holtmeyer’s three hits and one earned run allowed were backed up by an offense that put 11 runs across the plate en route to an 11-1 first round victory. Junior Brady Hohl went 4-for-5 and scored three runs while sophomore Tyler Splichal and freshmen Caleb Palensky and Beau Suponchick contributed multiple hits.
The Maverick bats went silent the following afternoon, and UNO fell 5-0 to No. 6 Emporia State. The Hornets’ Derek Brooks pitched a four-hit complete game, striking out four and walking only one.
UNO’s Ben Brown took the loss after a six-inning, seven-hit effort. Though Brown gave up four earned runs, he wasn’t helped by his defense, which committed three errors.
With the loss, UNO needed to win two games to get to the championship and two more to eliminate whichever team emerged from the winners’ bracket. The Mavs responded with a 10-5 victory in an elimination game against Missouri Western.
Sophomore Matt Tew earned the win just hours after the Mavs fell to Emporia State to keep UNO alive. Tew gave up three runs in five innings. The hitters helped out, giving him a 10-2 lead after four.
Right fielder Mark Waldron went 4-for-6 at the plate, batted in two runs and scored another. Six of the nine batters in the Maverick lineup contributed multiple hits, totaling 19.
UNO faced off against Emporia State again, looking for revenge just 24 hours after being sent to the losers’ bracket. Unlike the previous day, the UNO bats were alive and efficient in a 9-2 rout.
Emporia State led 2-1 going into the bottom of the third, but the Mavs tied the game that inning, then scored three in the sixth and four in the eighth to remove any doubt. Junior Corey Buckley pitched a complete game, giving up two runs and 10 hits.
The first three Mav hitters all reached with singles in the eighth before Palensky brought them in with his first career grand slam. The win set the Mavs up for a championship showdown with No. 5 Central Missouri.
Since UNO had already lost one game, the Mavs would have to beat the Mules twice to win the tournament. It wasn’t to be, as Central Missouri put up two runs in the top of the first, led 3-1 after three and never looked back in a 7-1 win to claim the MIAA title.
The Mules’ Matt Curtis threw seven effective innings, only allowing UNO three hits and one run before leaving the mound with a 5-1 lead. The Mavs’ Brandon Winklemann got the start, pitching four innings and surrendering four runs on seven hits.
Palensky followed up his grand slam performance the night before with another home run in the bottom of the first, but it was the only run UNO was able to get across.
Although the Mavs finished with three more wins than last season, they were denied an invitation to the NCAA tournament. It seems their five wins over ranked opponents during the year weren’t enough to impress the selection committee.
“I don’t know that we deserved it last year, but we made it,” Herold said. “I think our pitching and catching will make the determination next year for how far we go. That’s the name of the game – pitching and defense.”