By Mason Nesbitt, For TMC Sports Information

March 20, 2014

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- There was a noticeable lack of excitement and enthusiasm on the part of The Master’s College baseball team during its home series against Westmont College the weekend of March 7.

Mustang players were deathly quiet on the field, in the dugout, and in defeat.

TMC lost the first two games of the series before salvaging the final game in extra innings.

But at 3:15 on Tuesday afternoon, it was a different atmosphere: the GSAC’s first-place team cheered and kidded during outfield-throwing drills as they prepared for this weekend's showdown with second-place San Diego Christian (22-8 overall, 14-6 in GSAC).

“You owe me a dollar every time you overthrow the cutoff man,” catcher Spencer Toth yelled to the outfielders.

But overthrowing the cutoff, or defense as a whole for that matter, hasn’t been a problem for the Mustangs—TMC (25-6, 15-6) is second in the NAIA in fielding percentage.

And head coach Monte Brooks says the problem lately for his Mustangs, who won two out of three against Biola (9-24, 5-16) last weekend, hasn’t been a lack of excitement either.

“Our pitching hasn’t dominated like it has all year,” Brooks said of his team’s last six games, “and (on offense) we had chance(s)… against Westmont and we didn’t get it done.

“We had chance(s)…against Biola and we didn’t get it done.”

For most of the season, TMC’s pitching has overshadowed its lack of timely hitting: the Mustangs have left 252 men on base this season (more than any team in the GSAC except Biola), but their 2.71 team ERA has limited the number of runs they’ve needed to score.

The ERA for TMC’s starting pitching over the last six games, however, is 5.78, which makes situations like the sixth inning of their loss to Biola on Saturday more conspicuous—the first two TMC batters walked, but the Mustangs didn’t score.

But Brooks said all three of a team’s main components—hitting, pitching, and fielding—go through a “lull” at some point in a given season.

This weekend would be a good time for TMC’s pitching to return to dominating form.

SDCC has a .319 team batting average and boasts three of the top four hitters in the GSAC; the foremost of which is centerfielder Cade Gotta.

Gotta is hitting .444 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs, 24 stolen bases and 41 runs scored. He ranks in the top ten of the NAIA in 12 offensive categories.

“Gotta is going to get on base. It’s an anomaly if he doesn’t,” Brooks said. “The question is, how does he get on and what does he do when he does get on.”

The Mustangs want to hold Gotta to singles and keep him from stealing, Brooks said. But it’s obviously easier said than done.

And TMC will have to try and slow Gotta without right-hander James Scott. The senior won’t start on the mound this weekend as a precautionary measure, but may pitch in relief; he’s still working back from offseason elbow surgery.

It’s hardly all doom-and-gloom for the Mustangs, though.

Brooks expects to have starting-pitcher Tucker Richardson back this weekend. The right-hander has missed his last three starts with arm trouble but was, arguably, the Mustangs' best starter when healthy. Brooks said the rotation would be set by Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Senior Andrew Klausmeier will be in that rotation; he has posted a 2.23 ERA over three starts while filling in for Richardson.

Additionally, Toth broke out of a slump, going 6-for-11 at the plate with a home run last weekend at Biola. Leftfielder Steven Karkenny (.394) is second behind Gotta in the GSAC’s batting-title race. And TMC, despite a tough couple of weekends, is 19 games over .500 and in first place in the GSAC.

There’s a lot for Mustang fans to be optimistic about, but the next two weekends against NAIA #22 San Diego Christian and #9 Concordia-Irvine will be very telling about whether this team is poised to make another run at a GSAC championship and another trip to the NAIA World Series.