February 20, 2014

By Mason Nesbit,  For TMC Sports Information

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Most people might avoid returning to a place where they had an awful experience.

But not The Master’s College baseball team, as they travel to Phoenix this weekend to play Arizona Christian Univ.

“We just (want to keep) playing baseball like we have been and not worry about last year” said TMC second baseman Sam Robison of his Mustangs (17-2 overall, 10-2 in GSAC) returning to ACU.

It might be hard to believe what happened in Phoenix last year, in light of a season that ended at the NAIA World Series. The Mustangs had swept three games from the Firestorm earlier in the season and had won 11 of their last 13 games before the trip to Arizona on the weekend of April 12.

Things went horribly.

Arizona Christian beat the Mustangs 15-4, 7-0 and 13-3. TMC’s pitching staff gave up 40 hits in the series.

Was it the travel….the heat?

“The bottom line is they were a good club,” said TMC head coach Monte Brooks.

ACU had 19 seniors last season including their top two pitchers Mike Lachapelle and Stephen Thompson. Lachapelle threw a complete game shutout with 12 strikeouts against TMC in that woeful series; without him, ACU is off to just a 3-9 start in GSAC play.

They do return however, pre-season NAIA All-American Seth Neely and senior Phil Creecy, who are both off to slow starts but combined for 17 home runs and 89 RBIs last season.

“ACU has aggressive hitters,” Brooks said, “and they have a closer who can shut the door on you.”

In other words, TMC better not fall behind heading into the late innings this weekend. But you could say the same for Arizona Christian.

The Mustangs have their own door-slammer in freshman Jason Karkenny. Brooks talked about easing Karkenny into a late inning bullpen role, but that’s not been the case.

After pitching 4.1 innings of one run ball against Corban Univ. (Ore.) on Monday, Karkenny improved to 5-0 with a 0.95 ERA, and most of it’s come in tight situations against good teams.

Senior Andrew Klausmeier has bolstered TMC’s bullpen too, since his return on Feb. 4.  The right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in 10.1 innings and with his experience as a starter, gives Brooks the option to use him in long relief.

James Scott is back also. The senior right-hander still isn’t at full strength after having a bone spur and loose cartilage removed from his throwing elbow in the off-season, but he’s been effective in two starts.

“I’m very impressed (by James), that he’d come back that fast,” Robison said. “It’s fun to play behind him.”

But beyond the ever-improving pitching staff, a different mindset than last year may provide the most hope for a different result in Phoenix.

“We’re not overlooking anyone,” Scott said. “We’re not putting pressure on ourselves to win…and not thinking about the result.”

A 17-2 start says that attitude is working well so far.