First, the bad news.
A day after The Master’s College knocked San Diego Christian from the ranks of the unbeatens, the 12th-ranked Mustangs had the favor returned to them in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, losing to the No. 22 Hawks 11-8.
Now, the good news. After tasting defeat for the first time in 2014, the Mustangs bounced back in the nightcap, riding the strong right arm of Tucker Richardson (Modesto, CA) to a 3-1 win and a split of the GSAC twinbill.
Coupled with Friday’s victory, the split gave the Mustangs their second conference series win in as many weekends. The Mustangs are now 10-1 overall and 5-1 in the GSAC.
In the opener, the Mustangs took a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat as Jon Popadics (Boise, ID) drew a leadoff walk, went to second base on a Steve Karkenny (Chatsworth, CA) single, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice, and scored on Ryan Shackelford’s (Murrieta, CA) double to right field.
That slightest of leads lasted all of one-half inning as the Hawks pounced on Mustang starter Dalton Thompson (Riverside, CA) for three runs and a lead they would never relinquish. Two of those runs scored on a Jeff Lusardi double and then he eventually scored the final run of the frame on a groundout.
The Mustangs had a chance to close the deficit in the second but stranded a pair of runners. In fact, they would have several more chances through the fifth inning, but left seven more runners aboard.
This wound up costing them in a big way because the Hawks got the big hits that the Mustangs didn’t produce, starting in the third when they scored four more times and knocked out Thompson (2-1). Lusardi was the culprit again, smacking a three-run homer and then later in the inning a single by Peter Hoyt made it a 7-1 game.
The Hawks were far from finished. After finishing off Thompson, they went after reliever Conner Menez (Hollister, CA), tacking on another four-spot off the freshman in the fifth, extending their widening margin to 11-1.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs, with the exception of the first inning, just couldn’t break through against Hawk starter Gabriel Hemmer. That was until the sixth inning when Karkenny walloped a two-run homer to left-center field, the junior’s first of the season, slicing the deficit to 11-3.
Two innings later, the Mustangs really started to carve into the deficit, knocking out Hemmer and scoring three more runs. It started with a Joe Riddle (Bakersfield, CA) ground-rule double that plated Popadics, who had drawn another walk, and finished with another Shackelford rbi single and an error by Hawk rightfielder Michael Stowers, pulling the Mustangs to within 11-6.
The Mustangs kept coming in their final at-bat. They loaded the bases in the top of the ninth on a Collin Nyehuis (Vista, CA) double and a pair of hit-batsmen. Karkenny brought one run home with a sacrifice fly, Riddle plated another with an infield single, but the rally fell just short when Shackelford popped out to first base with two runners on.
Paced by three hits apiece from Karkenny and Riddle, the Mustangs outhit the Hawks 15-11. Shackelford, Sam Robison (San Juan Capistrano, CA), and Nyenhuis had two hits each.
If the opener was a runfest, then the nightcap was a polar opposite, featuring only four runs, and Richardson (3-0) was the reason why.
The senior righthander was absolutely magnificent, allowing just three hits and striking out nine in becoming the first Mustang hurler to go the distance (seven innings) in 2014. He retired the side in order four times and set down 15 consecutive Hawks from the second inning and into the seventh where he fell one out short of a shutout when Lusardi ripped a two-out home run.
His teammates give him a run before he threw his pitch of the afternoon when Popadics ripped a lead-off double to right field, moved to third on a balk, and scored easily on Karkenny’s run-scoring single up the middle. That put the Mustangs ahead to stay but they needed more.
They got another in the third inning when Popadics swatted a solo home run to left-center field. It was the junior’s second of the season and gave the Mustangs a 2-0 lead.
By then, Richardson was just into his streak of setting down the Hawk hitters, highlighted by two-strikeout frames in the third, fifth, and sixth innings.
The Mustangs provided Richardson with some insurance in the seventh, scoring their final run on a two-out single by Riddle.
Unfazed by Lusardi’s long ball, Richardson finished off the complete game, inducing a game-ending poput for the win and a split.
As has become the early trend in 2014, Karkenny, Popadics, and Robison paced the Mustangs’ nine-hit attack with two hits apiece. The trio is hitting .463, .417, and .405, respectively, through the season’s first 11 games.
The Mustangs return to action on Tuesday when they play at Claremont in a non-conference matchup before resuming GSAC play at Concordia next weekend.