Chris Talley and Bryan Lucas homered in each game and The Master’s College got two more solid pitching performances in a doubleheader sweep of No. 17 Fresno Pacific Thursday afternoon on Reese Field.
The Mustangs cruised to a 12-2 win in the opener and then broke open the nightcap late to post a 9-3 victory. The club’s fifth sweep of the season extended their winning streak to five games and improved them to 16-4 overall and 5-1 in the GSAC.
Although the offense produced a dozen runs in the opener, the story of the game was A. J. Work. The junior lefthander bounced back from his worst outing of the year against Pt. Loma Nazarene on February 23 to stifle the Sunbirds. He went seven innings, struck out seven, and allowed just four hits to improve to 4-1. He retired the first 11 batters he faced and ran into trouble only in the seventh inning when the Sunbirds scratched out a pair of runs.
However, by that time, the game was no longer in doubt since the bats had forged an 11-0 lead. The first three of those runs were produced in the second inning when Talley, who led off the frame with a double to center field, eventually scored on a passed ball, and Lucas clubbed a two-run homer to right field for a 3-0 advantage. It was Lucas’ third long ball of the year.
An inning later, the Mustangs blew the game open, tacking on five more runs for an 8-0 lead. Designated hitter Joe Riddle doubled in Tanner Leighton with the frame’s first run and Ryan Shackelford’s one-out single up the middle plated Talley and Riddle. One out later, Cody Harris drove in Shackelford with a base hit to right field and Jonathan Popadics finished off the outburst with a two-out single to center field that scored pinch-runner Sam Robison.
The Mustangs made it 10-0 in the fifth on just one hit as Harris’ two-run double to the gap in right center field scored Downs, who had walked, and Robison, who was running for Lucas after the Mustang catcher had been hit by a pitch.
In the sixth, the Mustangs tacked on another run with one swing of the bat as Talley hit his fourth home run of the year over the right field fence.
After the Sunbirds got to a tiring Work in the top of the next frame, the Mustangs closed out the scoring in the bottom of the inning when Harris doubled for the second time in the game, moved to third on a passed ball and then watched pinch-runner Bryce Clancy score on a Popadics’ sacrifice fly to center field.
Harris, who had broken out of a slump in the second-game win over Pt. Loma Nazarene last Saturday, paced the Mustangs’ 10-hit attack with three hits and drove in a game-high three runs while Talley had two hits.
The seven-inning nightcap produced a little more drama but that was done away with in the sixth when the Mustangs scored five times to put the finishing touches on the sweep.
Until that point, though, the game was in doubt as the clubs went back and forth. The Mustangs drew first blood in their initial at-bat when Popadics drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Tanner Leighton’s beautiful sacrifice bunt, and raced home on Steven Karkenny’s solid single to center field.
An inning later, the club sandwiched a Spencer Downs’ walk and a Popadics’ sacrifice fly around a Harris double to make it 2-0.
Mustang starter Daniel Sheaffer kept the Sunbirds off the scoreboard until the third when the visitors parlayed two hits, a balk, and an error into two, game-tying runs.
It stayed at 2-2 until the bottom of the fourth when Lucas lined a lead-off single to center field and one out later trotted home ahead of Harris’ two-run homer, a shot over the right field fence for his second roundtripper of the season.
It didn’t take long for the Sunbirds to respond as they nicked Sheaffer for a run on three hits in the top of the fifth but the southpaw averted further damage by stranding two runners.
That was Sheaffer’s final inning of work and reliever Tommy Kister preserved the one-run lead in the sixth despite walking two batters. In his five-inning stint, Sheaffer (3-1) allowed seven hits but only one earned run.
The precarious nature of the game became a moot point, though, in the bottom of the sixth when the Mustangs erupted for five runs. Lucas set the tone for the inning with a leadoff homer over the left field fence. Popadics doubled in one run and eventually scored on a wild pitch while Robison, pinch-running for Harris, scored on a wild pitch. Talley capped the uprising and the day’s scoring with a solo blast over the fence in right-center, his team-high fifth of the season.
Kister retired the Sunbirds in order in the top of the seventh for his second save of the year.
Talley, Karkenny, Lucas, and Harris each two hits apiece as the Mustangs rapped out 12 hits in the nightcap.
Following a day off, the clubs will be back at it again twice on Saturday, this time in Fresno for a twinbill that starts at 11:00 a.m.