Grant Suponchick powers Mavericks past Oral Roberts, closer to Summit League title

UNO's dugout cheers as Grant Suponchick's hits a home run. Suponchick finished with a home run, a two-run single and four RBIs.

The Summit League championship has resided in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the better part of two decades.

It will relocate to Omaha for the time being after a decisive opening day of the final weekend Thursday.

UNO inched closer to claiming the regular-season title when it clubbed conference kingpin Oral Roberts 13-3 in seven innings at Seymour Smith Park in the afternoon. The Mavericks clinched the crown a few hours later when North Dakota State edged second-place South Dakota State in a 3-2 final in Fargo.

The results made UNO (28-19-1) the first team to win the Summit championship during a year in which ORU was in the league since 1998. The Mavs claimed the regular-season title in both 2013 and ’14 when the Golden Eagles, chasing their 19th consecutive crown this spring, were in the Southland Conference.

UNO, however, was still going through its transition to the NCAA Division I level then and was ineligible for postseason play. The Mavericks will be the No. 1 seed for next week’s league tournament in Tulsa this time. UNO also earned the right to host next year’s tourney by winning the Summit championship.

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The Mavs broke out of their recent offensive funk in their series opener with Oral Roberts, using a seven-run fifth inning to turn the game into a blowout. Grant Suponchick and Parker Smejkal combined to drive in seven runs as UNO, which opened league play with 12 consecutive wins, moved to 20-8 in the Summit.

Smejkal accurately predicted a breakout performance by the Mavs after their nonconference loss at Creighton on Tuesday. His two-out, bases-clearing double in the fifth proved the game’s decisive blow.

“It definitely felt really good,” the junior from Columbus said. “It definitely felt like we made our statement that we are on top of this league for a reason, especially doing it against ORU. It’s something special to do, especially after the last however many games that we were on kind of a skid right there.”

UNO had dropped eight of its previous 10 games prior to Thursday’s victory. But it led from wire-to-wire in the win after catcher Brett Bonar set the tone for the afternoon with a two-out home run in the first.

The Mavs tacked on two runs in the second. Then Suponchick answered a tape-measure blast by league home run leader Spencer Henson in the top of the fourth with a solo shot of his own in the bottom half.

“I had popped up on that same exact pitch in my first at-bat, so I knew they were going to come back with it,” the senior from Papillion said. “I was lucky to get the second pitch and didn’t miss. They got a little bit of momentum in the top of that inning. It was good for us to get that momentum right back.”

UNO chased ORU starter Josh McMinn early in the fifth by putting its first two batters on. AJ Archambo came on to retire the next two hitters before Suponchick broke the game open with a high-hop single.

The Mavs scored two runs on the play to go up 6-2. Archambo then walked four consecutive batters before he was pulled. Smejkal greeted Landon Odom with a three-run double off the wall in center field.

“With runners in scoring position, I was just trying to do something with two outs — just put a ball in play and make them do the work,” UNO’s left fielder said. “Fortunately, I got the pitch I was looking for in that count and hit it in the gap. It felt like that was kind of the dagger, you could say, in this game.”

Smejkal has slugged his way into coach Evan Porter’s lineup this season by becoming UNO’s leading hitter. Suponchick, meanwhile, had seen limited at-bats while serving as a relief pitcher for the Mavs.

“Both of those guys are super people, and I’m happy for them,” Porter said. “When you hit like that, you’re going to play. Those guys didn’t get a lot of opportunities, whether it was this year or maybe last year. But they’ve kept at it and kept working. I’m so happy for them. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

Braden Rogers reached base four times — on three singles and a walk — and drove in three runs as UNO gave plenty of support to starter Payton Kinney, who worked around three solo homers to move to 9-1.

Now that they’ve clinched the top seed for the tournament, the Mavs hope to build up steam heading into the postseason. They’ll welcome recently injured starter Joey Machado back to the mound Friday.

“Hopefully, we can get him out there and keep some momentum going,” Porter said.

Tony covers UNO sports, the Omaha Storm Chasers and boxing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @BooneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1027.

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