San Antonio – A scattered-out stadium during the final elimination round of the Heartland Conference Baseball Tournament left a lone St. Mary’s Rattler easy to spot, eyeing all of his potential contenders late into the evening hours on Saturday.
Taking in all the action of a would-be 12-inning elimination game between Newman and Arkansas-Fort Smith from the spectator section of Sullivan Field, Skye Severns sat with coaches Charlie Migl and Chris Ermis.
Not fretting or even particularly anxious, the St. Mary’s No. 3 ace sat leaned back and relaxed, awaiting his long-thought-about stance on the mound that would have a roaring crowd behind the plate matched by a rowdy dugout of blue and gold that served as a constant reminder of the title on the line, all while maintaining a focus on the zone that was as sharp as his vision of himself on the rubber.
A day later, Severns would see that vision through, firing a near-complete-game shutout in a 4-0 victory over Arkansas-Fort Smith on Sunday that clinched the Heartland Conference postseason championship and an automatic berth to the regional tournament.
Severns struck out eight in eight innings, earning a spot on the All-Heartland Tournament Team that included four other Rattlers: infielder Tyler Migl (Sr., San Antonio), outfielder Billy Richard (Jr., Schertz, Texas), utility player Derek Moczygemba (Jr., Bulverde, Texas) and starting pitcher Rene Solis (So., San Antonio).
Richard was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player for a stellar all-around performance that included gunning down a runner at home plate from center field in the first inning of Sunday’s win.
The Rattlers (44-8) extended their season another week and qualified as the No. 2 seed to compete this Thursday for the regional title, with their first game against fifth-seeded Texas A&M-Kingsville at 11 a.m. in Warrensburg, Mo.
For Severns (Sr., Claremont, Calif.), the motivation for the eight-inning, eight strikeout toss came from last year’s clutch title-winner – now the Rattlers’ No. 1 ace and the conference’s Pitcher of the Year – Carl O’Neal (Jr., San Antonio).
“Last year in these tournaments I was in the four-hole,” says Severns, whose shutout Sunday was his second on the year. “And I saw Carl being able to pitch in this championship game (last year). He actually told me before, ‘That game’s a lot of fun.’
“I wanted to be there all year long.”
Commanding the mound to turn a victory for the title in the championship game has Severns and O’Neal on the same clutch plane, along with the undefeated win-loss record stat as Severns improved to 8-0 on the season Sunday – two days after O’Neal moved to 12-0 on the year. Tossing the title game to Severns, O’Neal’s advice mirrored the confidence of Severns’ game Sunday.
“They aren’t even scary,” O’Neal said of his last championship game. “They’re just fun.”
Severns definitely didn’t play around with the strike zone Sunday, powering his way through eight innings to showcase his usual hard ball, giving the Rattler fans and bench immediate entertainment as he struck out his first two batters in his first-ever conference tournament appearance. The No. 3 pitcher would rile them up six more times for an eight-strikeout ball game, improving his season ERA to 2.80. Severns allowed three hits to his 27 batters faced, all of whom he scoped the night before.
“We’ve already faced these teams before,” says Severns, who acted as a spectator in the elimination round Saturday night. “But guys change throughout the year. It really helped me staying with Coach Ermis and getting a real game plan of who we were facing.”
Striking in his first ever Heartland Conference tournament after snaking his way into the top pitching rotation this season, Severns’ vision of pitching in the championship game was reflected in the clear, sunny skies of Sunday’s game that starkly contrasted the dark weather at the start of the tournament that caused the one-day delay.
With the conference title behind them, the Rattlers now move forward to the regional tournament – their third-straight such trip. Powered by arguably the nation’s best pitching staff, which entered the week with the second-lowest ERA in the country, St. Mary’s is flirting with surpassing the single-season winning-percentage mark of 82.5 percent set last season. The Rattlers, who claimed the NCAA Division II national championship under Charlie Migl back in 2001, are at 84.6 percent this year.
And that dominant pitching was on full display throughout the tournament, as Severns’ success Sunday was preceded by Rene Solis’ (So., San Antonio) complete-game shutout in the semi-finals. And that came after O’Neal’s six-strikeout victory in the quarterfinals, allowing the Rattlers to breeze through the tournament in just three games.
“That’s huge,” says Severns. “We have an early turnaround; our first game’s Thursday, and like we found out last year in the regional tournament you can’t take anything for granted in regionals.”
The Rattlers’ pitching staff allowed only one run for the conference tournament and saw the 16th save for closer Jonathan Perez (RS-Jr., San Antonio).
Helping matters Sunday was a lineup that delivered in key moments, as shortstop Esteban Raygoza (Sr., San Antonio) drove in a first-inning run to put the Rattlers up right out of the gate. Richard, M.P. Cokinos (Jr., Houston) and Josh McElroy (Sr., Helotes, Texas) also drove in runs on the day.
St. Mary’s will continue to battle to reach the ultimate goal of the national championship – but they know they must first come out ahead in regionals.
“Every game is a big game in the regionals,” Severns said. “From now on, it’s a must-win situation everywhere we go.”