SAN ANTONO – With a focus on going the distance in order to reserve the Rattlers’ bullpen, Rattler ace Rene Solis winded up with his usual fierceness to clinch a complete-game shutout of Newman University on Saturday.

Striking out six in a 130-plus-pitch, pressure-packed effort, Solis tossed St. Mary’s straight into the Heartland Conference Tournament championship game with 7-0 victory at Incarnate Word’s Sullivan Field.

“Every game there’s pressure,” says Solis, a sophomore who is No. 2 in the Rattlers’ starting rotation, “and this one being my first start in postseason, I was awake at 7:30 (a.m.) and ready to go. Just right in the morning I was ready to play.” 

Solis’ early-morning rise took the mound by storm in the impressive victory, improving his record to 12-2 and his ERA to 1.50 on the season following the complete-game, nine-inning shutout.

Solis and the Rattlers produced three three-up, three-down innings in a full team effort to ensure their chance to defend the Heartland Conference title in game play that’s become routine for St. Mary’s, which improved to 43-8 and will face Arkansas-Fort Smith in the title game at 11 a.m. Sunday with a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South Central Regional.

“We’ve just been doing a lot of the same things we’ve been doing,” says Solis, who allowed five hits in the shutout. “Just playing our game. Coach (Chris Ermis) has been calling great pitches for me, Carl (O’Neal), Skye (Severns) and Derek (Moczygemba), and that’s basically it; we’ve just gone on to pitch our game. Defense has been phenomenal all season and the sticks came through.”

The pine Solis commends combined to smack seven hits Saturday in the seven-run game over the Jets’ (28-22) four-pitcher rotation. It was the quality of the hits that catapulted the Rattlers to a heavy lead that included two triples and a double.

Leading the Rattlers over the Jets was Ivan Sigala (Jr., El Paso, Texas), who went 3 for 4 at the plate including a big RBI triple in the sixth. His three-bag slug came only after he was brought home by Mario Maldonado (Fr., Laredo, Texas) with an RBI triple of his own in the fifth.

St. Mary’s came out of the hatch quickly as Saturday’s designated guest team, scoring a run in their first at-bat after Brandon Bates (Jr., Helotes, Texas) sliced a chopper to advance Billy Richard (Jr., Schertz, Texas) home after getting on free from a walk. The Rattlers would remain scoreless until the fifth, when the bats began to light up again. The Rattlers’ seven-run tally also showcased the bench’s unselfishness and desire for a victory as the game totaled five sacrifice bunts, all in the name of the game for the Rattlers.

“Everyone just came out and played a great game,” says starting catcher M.P. Cokinos. “It’s great to be in the championship. But like I said, it was a whole team (effort).

A team effort in the eighth brought in two runs after an RBI from Tyler Migl (Sr., San Antonio) brought home Bates. Migl would advance to third off a single from Sigala, who then sacrificed himself on a pseudo-steal in order to trip up the Jet infielders that allowed Migl to easily make it home for another run.  

Bates led the game in RBIs with two, while Moczygemba (Jr., Bulverde, Texas) got an RBI off a sacrifice bunt. Migl’s RBI in the eighth and the RBI triples from Maldonado and Sigala rounded out the seven-run victory that advances St. Mary’s into the championship game Sunday. The Rattlers have two wins under their belt in the tournament, making them the only team to be granted a bye game as the loser’s bracket was decided immediately after the Rattlers’ victory.

Arkansas-Fort Smith outlasted Newman, 2-1, in a 12-inning thriller in the nightcap to advance to face St. Mary’s.

But the winner of that game ultimately made no difference to the Rattlers, as they will come into the game Sunday with the same intensity held all weekend.

“There’s never a preference,” says head coach Charlie Migl. “Both teams played us tough all year so there’s no preference. Whoever wins tonight, we’ll be ready to play tomorrow and go from there.”

St. Mary’s will compete in the championship game Sunday against Arkansas-Fort Smith at 11 a.m. at Sullivan Field.

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