On a national holiday established to memorialize something more important than baseball, The Master’s College almost turned in a memorable performance, rallying late before falling to No. 1 Faulkner of Alabama 7-6 on the third day of the 2013 NAIA World Series.
The loss to the tournament’s top-seeded team, which snapped a ten-game winning streak, moved the Mustangs (44-16) into an elimination game on Tuesday against host and 16-time World Series champion Lewis-Clark St. (ID).
The Mustangs hadn’t lost since April 20 when they were beaten by Cal State San Marcos in the nightcap of a doubleheader and followed that with 10 straight victories, including three-game sweeps in the GSAC Tournament and the NAIA National Championship Opening Round, and a World Series-opening, 4-3 edging of Northwood (TX) last Friday.
But, none of those games came against the nation’s top-ranked team which lived up to its lofty status before allowing the Mustangs to rally.
The Eagles drew first blood in their initial at-bat, parlaying a single, a stolen base, a groundout, and a Mustang error into a run against Tyler Elrod (Modesto, CA), who was making his first start since May 3 when he was injured after being hit by a batted ball.
The senior righthander recovered nicely, though, keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard over the next three frames to keep his team in the game. But, his teammates weren’t complying against Faulkner starter Will Dismukes who shut out the Mustangs on three hits through seven innings. The Mustangs did have their chances in that span but left five runners on in scoring position.
The Eagles had no such problem, scoring two more runs in the fifth inning on four hits and then blowing the game open, or so it seemed at the time, with three more tallies in the seventh to move ahead 6-0.
An inning later, Elrod (8-5) was gone and the Eagles added another run against senior reliever Daniel Sheaffer (Mt. Airy, NC) to take a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead.
That’s when things turned dramatically for the Mustangs who not only made a game of it during their final two at-bats but put themselves in a position to win the game.
It started in the eighth when Jon Popadics (Boise, ID) led off with a double, advanced to third on an Eagle error, and scored on Steve Karkenny’s base hit up the middle. One out later, Karkenny, who moved up 90 feet when Ryan Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) was hit by a pitch, scored on Chris Talley’s (Simi Valley, CA) double to deep left-center field. Shackelford crossed home plate moments later when Cody Harris’ (Lakewood, CA) grounder was misplayed, making it a 7-3 game, but the Mustangs couldn’t come up with another big hit with the bases loaded.
After junior reliever Tucker Richardson (Modesto, CA) tossed a shutdown frame in the top of the ninth, the Mustangs went to work one more time in what turned out to be their final at-bat.
With one out, Karkenny drew a walk, was wild-pitched to second base, and trotted home ahead of Joe Riddle’s (Bakersfield, CA) double to right field. After Shackelford struck out, Talley kept the inning alive with a run-scoring single, plating Riddle and narrowing the deficit to 7-5.
Talley kept on going to second base on an Eagle miscue from where he scored on Sam Robison’s (San Juan Capistrano, CA) clutch, two-out single to left-center field, slicing the gap to just one run. However, that’s where the rally came to a halt as Harris grounded out to end the game.
After managing just three hits through the first seven frames, the Mustangs rapped out six in their final two at-bats. Leading the way with two hits apiece were Popadics, Talley, and Robison.
Now, the Mustangs face an elimination game for the first time in the postseason and it’s against a formidable Warrior club playing before a home crowd. Tuesday’s first pitch will be thrown at noon on Harris Field.