The Master’s University baseball team sits in the dugout watching their teammate, Aaron Shackelford, at the plate.
It’s the top of the ninth in an elimination game against Menlo College at the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament, and the Mustangs trail 5-7. There are two outs, bases are loaded and Shackelford has a full count.
The Mustangs’ season rides on the next pitch.
In a split second after the ball leaves the pitchers hand Shackelford pivots forward bringing his bat around smacking the baseball into the outfield, driving in two runs, and thanks to an error from Menlo’s centerfielder, he and another teammate are able to make their way around the diamond all the way to home plate making the score 9-7.
For the Mustangs, this season was characterized by come-from-behind moments. Three of their starters— pitcher Jason Karkenny, third baseman Michael Sexton and catcher Jonah Jarrad—were injured at some point during the season, and by March 24 the Mustangs were 15-17 overall.
“This year was different from all the other years,” said David Sheaffer, a senior catcher/first baseman on TMU baseball team. “We experienced trial after trial, one thing after another. We were halfway through the season thinking it was just going to be a grind.”
Around this point, the senior players called a team-only meeting to readjust their priorities.
Dalton deVries, a senior first baseman said, “With the injuries, there was a lot of pressure on (the individual) to step up and, when you have that pressure, it feels like the world is on your shoulders."
In addition to this, the teams’ attention was divided—their personal lives, their own athletic goals, etc.—and the meeting was meant to help center them.
They needed to rally together, and they did.
“Reciprocate your love of the Lord in all that you are doing,” is what Coach Monte Brooks teaches his team. Though none of the coaching staff was in the room, the meeting reaffirmed the team’s singular commitment to that mindset.
Sheaffer explained: “you are with 30 other people who have the same goal, the same bond and all claim to love Christ. I don’t think there is another place in America like this.”
Dalton, who transferred to Master’s U from another Christian university, agreed that “there is no place like Master’s when it comes to what we are focused on and how it brings us together.”
That mid-season meeting was the catalyst, Sheaffer said, for “the best season he’s experienced at Master’s U.”
After that meeting, they became almost unstoppable. deVries recalled the extreme work ethic and unwavering trust each member had in one another.
“We faced some pretty tough mountains but we never gave up. We always pushed forward,” deVries said.
Despite injuries and rough games, the Mustangs made it to the GSAC tournament, where they lost their opener but rattled off five straight wins to earn the tournament championship title and a trip to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics opening round in Georgia.
The Mustangs fought their way through a four-game sweep earning a bid to the World Series in Lewistown, Idaho for the second straight year. Sheaffer said that their wins are “just a testament to the group of guys we have, we never felt out of the game.”
Playing in the NAIA World Series was something they did not think was possible at the beginning of the season, neither did they think all injured members would be able to get their time on that World Series field, but they did. Arriving there, riding a 9-game winning streak, “it felt like no matter how many runs we were down, we were still going to win the game,” Sheaffer said.
It is important to focus “on your priorities,” Sheaffer continued, “which as a college baseball player is winning, but at the same time, your job is to push your teammates,” and as a Christian, “honor the Lord and work hard. (God) has a plan for every player and season.”
At Master’s, baseball is much more than a game.
The Master’s University men’s baseball team ended the season 41-23 and ranked #5 in the nation (see full list of top 25 here).
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