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NAIA championship road goes through Reese Field

TMC Insider: Opening round of NAIA Baseball Tourney begins today

Posted: May 11, 2014 8:18 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2014 8:18 p.m.

It is officially the postseason for The Master’s College baseball team as the squad begins its pursuit for a national title today in the 2014 NAIA Baseball Championship Opening Round.

For the second consecutive year, The Master’s College hosts the three-day, double elimination tournament.  

Below is a brief synopsis of each team competing in the Santa Clarita Bracket ...

San Diego Christian College (No. 1 Seed):
After coming off the most successful season in school history in 2013, the Hawks have exceeded expectations in 2014. San Diego Christian earned a preseason ranking in the NAIA Top 25 Poll for the first time in school history as they checked in at No. 22.  As the year progressed, the Hawks kept winning and climbing up the national rankings. When the first regular season poll came out on March 25, the Hawks were 25-9 and jolted to No. 5.

SDCC was near or at the top of the GSAC standings all season long, as they were finally able to grab their first regular season championship in the last game of the season.  

Four players were selected to the All-GSAC Team, and Cade Gotta was recognized as GSAC Player of the Year.

San Diego Christian will begin its time at the tournament by playing the winner of game one at 3:00 p.m. today at Reese Field.

The Master’s College (No. 2 Seed):
The Master’s College finished second in the Golden State Athletic Conference and was ranked in the NAIA Top 25 throughout the entire 2014 campaign.

The Mustangs went 23-13 in conference play on the way to a 37-16 record.

Highlighting the Mustangs’ efforts are a trio of All-GSAC performers, junior outfielder/pitcher Steve Karkenny, junior shortstop Jonathan Popadics, and senior third baseman Ryan Shackelford.  

Karkenny paced the club in nine offensive categories, including batting average (.380), hits (68), home runs (six), RBIs (45), total bases (106), slugging percentage (.592), and stolen bases (27).  

The right-hander also distinguished himself on the mound, developing into the conference’s best closer, notching seven saves and going 3-2 with a 1.14 earned run average.

Meanwhile, Popadics enjoyed another outstanding season at the plate and in the field.  

He led the club in run scored (48) and walks (31), and hit .356.  

After trying to find a niche in his previous three years, Shackelford won the third base job and went on to post his finest season.

He led the team in at-bats (192), doubles (20), and sacrifice flies (5), and hit .328.

The Mustangs will face Davenport University at 12:00 p.m. today at Reese Field.

Davenport University (No. 3 Seed):
Davenport has reached new heights in its baseball program this season.  

Along with making their inaugural appearance in the NAIA National Opening Round this year, the Panthers achieved the milestone of a 40-win campaign and clinching the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships.

Under the direction of third-year head coach Kevin Tidey, Davenport’s historical season began on the road for the first 16 games, from a three-game series at Union (Ky.) to a 10-day spring break trip in central Florida.  

After going 8-7 on the road to start the season, the long wait paid off as the Panthers would go on to host 27 games at the Farmers Athletic Complex, going 23-4 in their ballpark.

The Panthers are led by WHAC Pitcher of the Year Corey Murphy and Newcomer of the Year Brendan Bender.

Murphy is 8-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 12 appearances, with 11 of them starts. The right-hander also tossed five complete games including game one of the WHAC Tournament last Monday and has posted four shutouts.

Bender, a two-way left-hander, has started 53 of 54 appearances between first base and the mound.

At the plate he leads the team in batting average (.376), doubles (14), triples (two), home runs (three) and RBIs (51).

He’s started five of seven games as a pitcher and is 2-1 with a 3.96 ERA.

Vanguard University (No. 4 Seed):
Vanguard University enters the NAIA National Championship Opening Round with an overall record of 32-11.  

The Lions are the first VU baseball team to qualify for the tournament since the 2009-10 season.  

Head coach Rob Pegg and his staff have turned the program around in two quick seasons, led in part by the stellar leadership of the 10-man 2014 senior class.

The Blue and Gold started its year with a bang, winning eight-straight contests to boast Vanguard’s best start in the history of the program. In Golden State Athletic Conference play, the Lions went 21-15 and finished in a three-way tie for third, but pulled out a clutch end-of-the-year series win against league rival Concordia to secure the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.

Down the stretch, Vanguard garnered three GSAC Pitchers of the Week in Clayton Voechting, Marshall McKinnon and Eddie Rivera, while Rivera also notched prestigious All-GSAC honors after striking out a team-leading 85 opposing batters in his senior campaign.

Senior Thomas Mobley was chosen as one of the league’s premier outfielders, being named to the GSAC Golden Glove team for his impressive defensive effort on the year.

On the national stage, senior Nick Rodda broke the all-time NAIA hit-by-pitch record for a single season after being tagged 40 times in 2014 contests.

The Lions will kick off the tournament in a 9 a.m. game today against the University of British Columbia at Reese Field.

University of British Columbia (No. 5 Seed):
The University of British Columbia returns to the NAIA World Series Opening Round for the first time since 2011.

The Thunderbirds earned their spot by winning the NAIA West Grouping Championship at home in Vancouver, defeating Concordia of Portland, Oregon by a score of 4-1.

UBC finished 29-11 in the regular season and enters the Opening Round on an eight-game winning streak.

Junior hurler Conor Lillis-White leads the Thunderbirds’ pitching staff.

The Toronto native is currently 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA, which is the best in the NAIA.

Lillis-White was one of four UBC players named to the All-NAIA West Group team, along with Bruce Yari, Bryan Arthur and Matt Thornton.

Yari leads the team with a .361 batting average.


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