February 6, 2014

By Mason Nesbitt, for TMC Sports Information

Concordia University-Irvine probably didn’t expect its series with The Master’s College to mean so much, so early in last season.

But TMC shortstop Jon Popadics knows the Eagles recognize how much the series—which begins Friday—means in 2014.

“Now we have the target on our backs. We’re the team Concordia has circled on their schedule,” Popadics said.

The Eagles entered last years’ matchup on February 8 ranked #11 in the NAIA; TMC was unranked.

After the Mustangs lost the first game of the series, they beat Concordia 7-6 in 13 innings in game two and went on to win the third.

TMC never looked back.

The Mustangs won their next nine GSAC games and went 22-7 the rest of the conference season. They won the GSAC regular season and tournament titles, and finished sixth at the NAIA World Series.

“That game (7-6 in 13 innings) set the tone for the entire season,” Popadics said. “It was a huge game; it gave us the confidence to believe we could win GSAC.”

The Eagles won 22 GSAC games last season but finished three games behind the Mustangs and had to travel out-of-state for their NAIA Championship Opening Round tournament.

But despite all TMC’s success, Concordia got the best of them on the road; the Eagles won two-of-three, shutting out TMC over the final two games.

And Irvine is where the two teams will play this weekend.

“They’re really good at home,” said TMC head coach Monte Brooks. “They’re comfortable (at home) and their field matches up to their talent. They hit the ball on the ground and they run; their field is hard, fast and big.”

Concordia (8-1 overall, 2-1 in GSAC) had to replace three All-GSAC players in their lineup, but they’re still batting .334 as a team.

The Eagles—ranked ninth in the NAIA—can pitch too.

Despite losing two All-GSAC pitchers, they boast a three-man starting rotation with three solid ERA’s, three solid strikeout numbers and five wins in six starts. Oh, and one no-hitter.

“They are a perennial powerhouse,” Brooks said. “It’s always fun to compete against the best.”

The 12th ranked Mustangs (11-1, 5-1 GSAC) will have extra arms ready to compete on Saturday. Seniors James Scott and Andrew Klausmeier will both pitch, though it’s unclear how many innings they’ll throw.

Klausmeier pitched for the first time this season on Tuesday at Claremont, where he retired all six batters he faced and struck out two. Scott hasn’t pitched yet this year as he’s rehabbed an injury.

But even without two of their best, TMC’s pitching has been excellent.

The Mustangs team ERA sits at 2.09 and Seniors Tommy Kister and Tucker Richardson have transitioned seamlessly from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

Steven and Jason Karkenny have pitched well out of the bullpen, as have Aaron Alexander, Hunter Totemeier and Joe Riddle.

“Our pitching staff is the backbone of our team,” Brooks said. “Pitching is the main ingredient for successful teams.”

The offense hasn’t slacked either. Eight of TMC’s nine regular starters are batting over .300 to start the year.

But maybe most impressive of all, the Mustangs have committed only two errors in 12 games.

They’ll have to excel in all three of those aspects this weekend.

“I think (this series) will set the tone for the season,” Popadics said, “And we’ll find out how good we are.”