Hitting its way deeper into the postseason, The Master’s University scored early and often and then held on to defeat Webber International 14-12 Tuesday afternoon in a winners’ bracket game at the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
Now standing as the only undefeated team in the Lawrenceville bracket, the Mustangs (38-21) advanced to the championship game tomorrow against either Georgia Gwinnett or Webber. A win in that game would send the Mustangs to the NAIA World Series for the second year in a row. A loss would make it necessary for another game to be played on Thursday with the World Series berth on the line.
The way the Mustangs are hitting, Thursday may not be necessary. Through nine postseason games the club is hitting .338 and Tuesday’s 19 hits, a season-high, in 40 at-bats (.475) helped to inflate that number.
If that was impressive, then the Warriors’ performance (22-45) was even more so except Webber wasn’t able to convert more of those into runs. However, Webber did strike first, using four hits in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead off Mustang starter Scott Savage.
The Mustangs didn’t answer in their initial at-bat but in the second inning they evened the score, taking advantage of a Warrior error and two hits to even things up. Aaron Shackelford, who reached on the Webber miscue, eventually scored on a Dalton deVries’ single and Matt Janes’ sacrifice fly later in the frame plated Jason Karkenny with the tying run.
That two-run frame started a streak of five consecutive run-scoring innings for the Mustangs that gave them a comfortable lead through the fifth inning.
In the third, the club rapped out three more hits and scored twice to double the advantage. Jonah Jarrard’s single, the first of his four hits, led off the inning and courtesy runner Ricky Sottile raced to third base on Michael Sexton’s double to right-center field. Both Sottile and Sexton scored one out later when David Sheaffer’s double found the gap in left-center field.
An inning later, the lead grew to 8-2 when the Mustangs put four more runs across the plate. The big hit was Jarrard’s two-run single that brought home Janes and Max Maitland. Later, deVries and Caleb Menez notched easy rbi when both of them drew bases-loaded walks.
The runfest continued in the last of the fifth when Jarrard smashed a two-run homer over the left field fence, scoring Maitland in front of him. The junior catcher’s 12th long ball of the season expanded the TMU lead to 10-2.
That margin appeared to be very safe with the way Savage was dealing. Bouncing back from a tough first inning, the junior righthander blanked the Warriors over the next four frames and had an eight-run cushion heading to the sixth.
However, in the blink of an eye and seven hits later, the Warriors sliced six runs off the deficit to chase Savage and close within 10-8. Savage’s stint covered 5 2/3 innings during which he gave up 13 hits and eight runs, all earned.
Two of those runs scored after reliever Aiden Stout entered the game, although the freshman finally shut the door on the Warriors in the sixth.
As they have done consistently throughout the postseason, the Mustangs didn’t waste any time responding. Sparked by run-scoring singles from Janes and Maitland, and an rbi double from Jarrard, the Mustangs scored three more times in the last of the sixth to create some much-needed separation, 13-8.
Even that, though, was barely enough because the Warriors kept on raking in the top of the seventh, scoring four more runs on six hits to pull within 13-12. Reliever Nate Bonsell, taking over for Stout, who didn’t retire a batter in the frame, eventually got out of the inning and left the bases full of Warriors.
Suddenly, in the space of two innings, the Warriors had scored 10 times, turning a laugher into a nail-biter. The Mustangs had no answer in the last of the seventh and turned to closer Danny Lutz to attempt to quiet the Warrior bats over the final two innings.
And that he did. First, he retired the Warriors in order in the top of the eighth and then in the ninth after surrendering a leadoff single, he got a flyout and then induced a game-ending double play. Lutz’ save, his first of the season, helped Savage improve to 6-4.
In between Lutz’ two innings of relief, the Mustangs added an insurance run. In the last of the eighth, Janes hit a one-out single through the left side. Courtesy runner Sottile was balked to second base and raced home on Maitland’s fourth hit of the afternoon, a single up the middle.
When the hit parade concluded, every starter had at least one with Maitland and Jarrard, who had five rbi, each going 4-for-5. Maitland matched a season-high with his hit total while Jarrard established a career-high. Janes collected three hits while Sexton and Sheaffer had two apiece.
With three straight wins under their belts, the Mustangs can now sit back tomorrow morning and wait for the Gwinnett-Webber International winner. TMU’s game is slated to start at noon PDT.