March 14, 2013

By Mason Nesbitt, TMC Sports Information Intern

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- Ryan Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) strikes out, ending a very disappointing game and a very disappointing series for The Master’s College.

Shackelford wasn’t the only hitless Mustang on January 28; nobody got a hit off Biola pitching that day.  The series looked promising after a 2-0 Mustang win on Saturday morning, but ended with losses in the final two games.

“All three were very close games,” said Mustang coach Monte Brooks.  “We just didn’t come through in the clutch.  Even the no-hitter, we had so many base runners, we were threatening all day, but we never got a big hit.  That was the difference in the games.”

But that was 22 games ago.

Since then, The Master’s College has lost only two GSAC games en route to a 21-7 overall record and a conference-leading 14-4 mark. TMC can avenge its only no-hitter of the season this weekend in a three-game series against Biola in La Mirada.

Biola will have to deal with a revived Mustang offense.  The turning point for TMC’s bats may have come on February 8.  After losing game one of a three-game series against Concordia, something had to change.

“We had a position players meeting after the first game against Concordia,” said Mustang first baseman Spencer Downs (Kelso, WA).  “We talked about what we were struggling with as a team and individually.  A lot of it was that once we fell behind or struggled to score runs, we'd try harder instead of relaxing. I think a lot of it, too, was us having high expectations for the team and as individuals, and then feeling pressure when we weren't living up to those."

The next day, TMC trailed 4-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning before rallying to tie and eventually winning game two in 13 innings.  Downs scored the winning run on a Brett Piper (Saugus, CA) single.

“I think we started to get some clutch hits in that game,” Downs said.  “I think that caused a lot of guys to relax and get more comfortable and confident at the plate.”

The Mustangs took game three 4-2 later that afternoon and haven’t lost a GSAC game since, sweeping Vanguard, Arizona Christian and Westmont-- scoring 5.6 runs per game since February 9, up from 2.6 (not including Simpson, whom TMC outscored 43-1 in three games).  Mustang leftfielder Steven Karkenny (Chatsworth, CA) has been key, hitting .479 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in the team's last 13 games.

Biola (16-12, 8-10 GSAC) has gone the opposite direction, losing nine of its last 15 GSAC games and falling six games behind TMC.  The Eagles are hitting a GSAC- best .306 as a team and have posted a 3.42 team ERA, but have lost five conference games by one or two runs.

“Biola is a formidable team,” Brooks said. “Biola’s ace Nick Turner (5-2, 2.89 ERA, 47 SO, 6 BB) is a star and there are a couple of guys in their lineup that can really punish you, so we have to make smart pitches.”

Downs thinks the velocity demonstrated by Biola’s starting pitchers surprised TMC the first time around.  Eagle starters combined to allow two runs in 17.2 innings and struck out 16 Mustangs.  TMC’s impatience at the plate also played a role in its struggles.

“We beat ourselves last time. We chased pitches out of the zone and gave their pitchers a better opportunity to stay in the game,” Brooks said. “This time we need to be patient and disciplined to our zones at the plate. We just need to do what we’ve been doing and allow our athletic ability to unfold.”

The Mustangs will lean on A.J. Work (Boise, ID), James Scott (Canyon Country, CA), and Tyler Elrod (Modesto, CA), who mirrored Biola’s starters in the series, limiting Eagle hitters to two earned runs in 17 innings.  On the year, TMC has a team ERA of 2.15, which is over a point lower than any other GSAC team and sixth-best in the NAIA.

Friday’s game in La Mirada will be the fourth of 12 straight conference road games for the Mustangs and begins TMC’s second time playing each GSAC team.

“We are excited for the second round of GSAC games,” Brooks said. “The guys are stoked and ready to fire up.  Our heart's desire is to honor the Lord with the effort that we put forth.”

First pitch on Friday is set for 3:00 PM, and Saturday’s doubleheader is scheduled for noon and 3:00 PM.

Watch the game live here; Follow the game via live stats here.