By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
If you talk to The Master’s University baseball team, you’ll find it has one eye down the road and another on the ground below its feet.
“We don’t want to just go to (the NAIA World Series). We want to take the title home,” said shortstop Aaron Shackelford. “That is our goal. We want to play every game like that’s what we believe we can do.”
Said center fielder Max Maitland, “You can’t think about it too much this time of year. You have to win games early on. Last year, we started off slow because we were thinking about the World Series instead of focusing on (the present).”
That slow start left the Mustangs at 15-17 on March 24, headed for a dull ending to an injury-riddled season.
Then the streak happened.
The Mustangs got relatively healthy, catcher Jonah Jarrard was almost impossible to pitch to and Master’s rattled off 26 wins in 32 games.
In the end, TMU finished fifth at the NAIA World Series, its third trip to the big stage in five seasons.
If Master’s, ranked No. 14 in the preseason NAIA coaches poll, makes it back to the series this year, it’ll be because its pitching staff lived up to expectations and a young lineup found its way.
Righty Robert Winslow returns after a solid sophomore season. The 6-foot-5 power pitcher was 9-5 with a 2.95 ERA. He struck out 100 batters and walked 35 in 113 innings.
Over the offseason, he fine-tuned his mechanics, working specifically on finishing his delivery.
“That’s the main thing,” Winslow said. The starting rotation also features senior right-handers Scott Savage, a catcher-turned-reliever-turned-starter, and Jaiden France, a transfer from San Jose State University and a Santa Clarita Valley product (Golden Valley High).
The bullpen is talented. Veterans Nate Bonsell and Eric Williams can start or relieve. Transfer Preston White (Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama) stands at 6-6 with a live fastball.
He could close games. He will play right field – the position the Dodgers drafted him at in the 38th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
White will haunt the middle of the Mustangs’ order (and, hopefully, opposing pitchers). So too will Shackelford, a candidate for All-American honors in this his junior season.
Shackelford hit .313 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs in 2017. He stole a team-best 14 bases on 16 tries.
Maitland snagged 11 bags. He hit .340 with 82 hits en route to All-GSAC honors. He hopes in 2018 to be a more cerebral center fielder.
“I’m hoping to be smarter in the outfield with my throws, smarter at the plate,” Maitland said. “(I want to) hit with a little more power.”
Players like France – another one of TMU’s two-way players – and third baseman Pearson Good (Hart High) should help drive the offense for a team that lost its biggest bats from a year ago.
Jarrard, who set the program’s single-season record for hits (86), signed with the Dodgers. The Giants drafted third baseman Michael Sexton in the 14th round this summer. And David Sheaffer transferred to NCAA Division 1 UNC Wilmington.
In the nascent Mustangs’ favor: an ability to apply instruction.
“This whole team is a very teachable group,” said coach Monte Brooks. “They really desire to get better. They really desire to learn. … They want to do it right before the Lord.”
Master’s opens its season Friday against Marymount California University at the MLB Academy in Compton at 2 p.m.
The Mustangs then host Marymount at TMU on Saturday in a double-header. First pitch of the twin bill set for 11 a.m.