FRESNO, Calif -- After pummeling Fresno Pacific in a doubleheader Thursday by a combined score of 21-5 it looked as if things were going to keep going The Master’s College way in game one Saturday of yet another twinbill. Both starting pitchers, James Scott (TMC) and Matt Mazzoni (FPU), dominated the early going as the game was scoreless for the first four innings. The Sunbirds had runners at second and third with only one out in the fourth, however, Scott escaped the jam by striking out Scott Laird and getting David Hawes out on a bunt attempt to Cody Harris, who made a fantastic bare-handed play to get the out at first.
The Mustangs opened the scoring in the fifth on a towering two-run homer by Spencer Downs. Downs, who had been struggling of late, seemed to return to last season’s form, going 2-3 in game one and hitting several balls hard in game two. The Mustangs pushed their lead to 3-0 in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Harris. The inning was keyed by the hustle of Bryan Lucas who forced an error on the FPU shortstop with his extra effort down the first-base line.
Scott dominated the first seven innings for the Mustangs on the hill, allowing only one hit and striking out five. The eighth inning proved to be the turning point in the game, however, as the Sunbirds batted through their order, scoring seven runs (four off of Scott) to erase the Mustang lead. It all started with a softly-hit ball down the left field line by Fresno’s catcher John Koretoff for a double. TMC had an opportunity, after Scott was relieved by Zach Anderson, to get out of the inning with a 3-2 lead but Robbie De La Cruz, a transfer from UNLV, smoked a single past a diving Downs at first base, bringing in two more runs.
The Mustangs were able to put up two runs of their own in the top of the ninth but it would not be enough as they fell 7-5. The winning pitcher was Josh Medeles who pitched the eighth and ninth innings in relieve of Mazzoni. Scott (3-1, 3.52 ERA, 29 K’s) took the loss despite a very strong outing.
Despite the loss in game one, the Mustangs still had the opportunity to win the series with a win in the nightcap and for that task they sent their ace Charlie Gillies to the mound. Gillies (5-1,0.96 ERA, 52 Ks) did not disappoint, pitching a complete-game three-hitter, striking out nine and walking only three. The lone run he surrendered came in the first inning, a frame in which Gillies did not allow a hit.
The Mustangs threatened to score in the second but were turned away as a Lucas line drive found the glove of Sunbird second baseman David Hawes. The Sunbirds would not be as fortunate in the sixth as a Jon Popadics’ single and a Tanner Leighton bunt hit were followed by a two-run double by freshman Steve Karkenny (.388 BA, 11 2Bs). The rally continued as Joe Riddle (.375, 13 RBIs) lined a single up the middle to bring in Karkenny, giving the Mustangs a 3-1 advantage after six innings.
It looked as though the Sunbirds might make another late rally, still trailing 3-1 in the ninth, but Gillies got De La Cruz, the hero of game one, to ground out to second to end the game with runners on the corners. After the game Gillies talked about the large role his newest pitch (the sinker he picked up in Alaska over the summer) has played in his success so far this season, saying it has given him more confidence in his fastball. It would also be safe to say that it has been forcing hitters to put the ball on the ground as evidenced by the 15 groundball outs he induced Saturday.
Splitting the doubleheader pushed the Mustangs record to 17-5 overall and 6-2 in the GSAC, a game behind Concordia for first place, while the Sunbirds moved to 13-8 overall and 4-4 in conference play. The Mustangs will be back in action next week hosting San Diego Christian on Thursday at Reese Field in a doubleheader starting at 11:00am.