A.J. Work tossed seven and a third innings of superb ball and Steven Karkenny and Spencer Downs drove in two runs apiece to lead The Master’s College to a 9-1 triumph over Vanguard Monday afternoon in Costa Mesa. The game was the makeup of the opener of Saturday’s washed-out doubleheader. The clubs will play the other game next Monday.
The victory was the 19th-ranked Mustangs’ ninth in their last 10 games and kept them firmly entrenched in third place (15-12 GSAC, 30-15 overall) in the GSAC. With five games remaining in conference play, the Mustangs trail second-place Concordia by 2½ games and lead fourth-place Biola by a game and a half.
Work is one of the primary reasons why the Mustangs have wrapped up a berth in the upcoming GSAC Tournament and could challenge for a spot in the NAIA National Tournament. The junior lefthander notched his team-high eighth win (8-2) of the season on the strength of five-hit ball and lowered his earned-run average to a sparkling 2.09 by allowing just one run.
He retired the Lions in order just twice but spaced out the five hits and just one walk in keeping the hosts from really putting anything together. Vanguard’s only tally of the afternoon came in the sixth inning when Nikko Tountas clubbed a two-out home run off Work.
That run did little to affect the Mustangs who had put six runs on the board by then. They struck for their first run of the day in the second when Downs led off with a single up the middle, moved to second base on a Lion error (one of five), advanced to third on a ground out, and scored on a passed ball.
Three innings later, they took advantage of another Lion miscue to score two more runs. With one out in the fifth, Joe Riddle singled to right-center field and was safe moments later when Sam Robison’s grounder was misplayed. Following a strikeout, Tanner Leighton laced a base hit through the left side to load the bases and Karkenny then rapped a clutch, two-out, two-run single to nearly the same location for a 3-0 lead.
The Mustangs were far from finished. An inning later they doubled their advantage, parlaying three hits, two wild pitches, and a passed ball into three runs. Bryan Lucas doubled in Cody Harris with the inning’s first run, Caleb Halvorson, who ran for Lucas, scored on one of the wild pitches, and Leighton capped the inning with a run-scoring single that plated Robison.
They equaled that scoring output in the top of the eighth, scoring the final three runs of the game by taking advantage of a pair of Lion errors. The highlight of the inning was a two-run single off the bat of Downs which scored Jonathan Popadics and Leighton. Later in the frame, Halvorson made it 9-1 when he scored on the Lions’ fifth error of the game.
Leighton, Chris Talley, and Downs paced the club’s 13-hit attack with two hits apiece.
Before the two clubs get together again next Monday for the final game of their season series, the Mustangs will have a chance to say something about second place in the GSAC as they play No. 11 Concordia four times this week, starting with single contests in Irvine this Thursday and Friday.