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College baseball: TMC aiming at greatness

Balance of pitching, defense and hitting gives The Master's College tons of potenial

Posted: February 25, 2013 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2013 1:55 a.m.
The Master’s College seniors, from left, Daniel Sheaffer, Chris Talley, Tyler Elrod, Spencer Downs and A.J. Work. The Master’s College seniors, from left, Daniel Sheaffer, Chris Talley, Tyler Elrod, Spencer Downs and A.J. Work.
The Master’s College seniors, from left, Daniel Sheaffer, Chris Talley, Tyler Elrod, Spencer Downs and A.J. Work.

By Jon Stein

Signal Staff Writer

The Master’s College Mustangs baseball team knows it has the potential to compete for a Golden State Athletic Conference championship, and possibly more, this season.

It has the front line starters and depth in the bullpen to keep the Mustangs in
every game.

That’s been evident through the team’s first 20 games, after which they sit at 15-5 overall, 11-4 in conference play.

Last season’s top defensive team in the nation returned its entire infield and replaced two outfield spots with more than capable athletes.

And the Mustangs pack a punch on offense.

“We have, I think, a very special team,” said TMC head coach Monte Brooks, whose has won its lone GSAC title in 2003. “Three major criteria kind of stand out: extremely unselfish, they are tremendous workers and they are really diligent. They put in the time in the weight room and conditioning and development of their skills.”

Defensive skill is once again at a premium for the Mustangs this season, with power-hitting first baseman Spencer Downs, the double play tandem of second baseman Sam Robison and shortstop Jonathan Popadics and Cody Harris holding down the hot corner at third.

The Mustangs led the nation last season in team fielding percentage, posting a .978 clip.

“If I make a mistake I know I’ve got the best eight guys in the field probably in the country,” said pitcher Tyler Elrod. “I know it’s going to get caught. I know the play is going to get made.”

Starting in the outfield is returning left fielder Steve Karkenny, Caleb Halverson in center and Ryan Shackelford in right.

“We are very talented,” Brooks said. “We have a very good defensive team and a very good pitching staff. And we’re capable of producing offensively.”

It’s that three-pronged approach, with talent in all three phases — offense, defense and pitching — that has the team so excited for the possibilities this season could hold.

“Our whole team is confident we have the potential to be the best team in our league,” Downs said. “We have a lot of confidence that we have the potential to win league and we have a lot of goals, including to make it to the (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) national tournament and perform there as well.”

The only thing holding them back, according to Brooks, has been underachieving at the plate.

TMC ranks 67th in the country in batting average (.278) and 28th in home runs per game (0.45).

“We’ve struggled a little bit early in hitting,” Brooks said. “Some guys who have had a lot of success in the past started out (slowly). Little things haven’t fallen their way.”

Things are slowly starting to turn around though.

The Mustangs just completed back-to-back, three-game sweeps over Vanguard and Arizona Christian in the past two weeks.

Their home run production has almost doubled over that time. TMC ranked 59th in home runs per game at 0.27 before the winning streak.

To the Mustangs, it was always more a matter of when the offense would play to its fullest potential, not if.

“We’ve been playing better offensively as of late,” Downs said. “We just had to relax and get more comfortable at the plate and not put so much pressure on ourselves. We’ve definitely started to turn it around. When you’re struggling in any phase, it’s easy to put a lot more pressure on yourself. It can affect your performance. We got back to the basics of hitting and having confidence in ourselves.”

Add that to a superb pitching staff led by A.J. Work, and the Mustangs have a recipe for success over the remaining two months of the season.

Work leads the Mustangs with a 5-1 record and has posted a 1.22 ERA so far this season.

“When we’re trying to put runs on the board, if we have confidence in our pitching and defense to keep the teams to three runs or less, it takes a lot of pressure off (the offense),” Downs said. “We can relax knowing our defense and pitching is going to keep us in the game.”

After Work in the pitching rotation comes senior transfer Elrod (4-1, 2.70 ERA), who is coming off 2011 Tommy John surgery and James Scott (3-2, 1.22 ERA). In the bullpen, TMC has relievers Daniel Sheaffer, James Scott, Tommy Kister, Andrew Klausmeier and Tucker Richardson, who have all pitched double-digit innings this season. It’s clear why TMC thinks this year has the potential to be special.

“If we play the way we can play, I strongly believe a championship will be in our future,” Elrod said.



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