By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
Monte Brooks‘ mission when he approached the mound with two outs in Friday’s ninth inning was to calm down senior Scott Savage, who had just walked two batters to load the bases and force in a run.
The Mustangs were clinging to a two-run lead with white knuckles, but Brooks spoke with a touch of his signature humor.
“I said, ‘Did you know I pitched in pro ball?'” TMU’s head coach recounted later, laughing. “He said, ‘Yeah, coach.’ I said, ‘It’s fun isn’t it? It’s fun to pitch.'”
Brooks played nearly every defensive position in the San Diego Padres farm system. Of his 313 games, he pitched in three.
The comical nature of the comment evidently wasn’t lost on Savage, who gathered himself and struck out the game’s final batter, delivering a much-needed 6-4 win over Vanguard University on Friday at Lou Herwaldt Stadium.
“I wanted to make sure the fans got what they paid for,” said Savage, who earned his first save since March 25, 2017.
The outing saved the Mustangs (23-19, 15-16) from squandering two leads on the day and gave them a boost in the race for the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. TMU holds fourth-place by one game over Hope International and 3.5 games over Arizona Christian. Five teams make the tournament. Five games remain after Friday’s tightrope act.
In the ninth, Savage was the second Mustang to pitch. Caleb Jaime trotted out to the hill for his second full inning of work and retired two of the first three hitters he faced. Then he hit Shane Elias-Calles with a pitch, and Brooks turned to Savage, one of TMU’s best starting pitchers to this point.
Savage had played catch in the eighth, then got hot in a hurry.
“I’m always ready. I told him, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go,'” said Savage, who loaded the bases then fell behind 2-0 on Vanguard’s Chris Rodriguez.
On the mound, Brooks reminded Savage of the situation: The wind was blowing in. This was not the heart of Vanguard’s order.
Savage pumped a fastball over the inside corner. Rodriguez fouled a heater straight back. And Savage finished him with a high slider to snap Vanguard’s seven-game winning streak.
Master’s had lost six of eight, but shortstop Aaron Shackelford made an early point of rectifying that.
In the first inning, the junior launched a no-doubt, two-run shot down the right field line. The home plate umpire dropped to a knee to watch it curl inside the foul pole, jabbing his left arm toward the infield to declare Shackelford’s team-leading 10th blast a fair ball.
Shackelford, who hit 14 home runs last season, took his helmet off as he neared home plate and clinked it with cheery teammates.
“Did you see how easy it was?” Brooks said of Shackelford’s swing.
Shackelford finished the day a triple short of the cycle, putting Master’s ahead 3-1 with an RBI double in the second inning and bunting for a hit in the fourth.
Pearson Good tallied two hits for Master’s, which will host Vanguard in a double-header starting at noon on Saturday.
The Lions sent their ace to the hill in the opener. But by the end of the first inning, the Mustangs had scored more runs against Jordan Dreibelbis than they had in eight innings the last time they saw him.
Dreibelbis — a senior who entered Friday with the GSAC’s lowest ERA — nearly went the distance on Feb. 23, striking out five and forcing Master’s to pound the ball into the dirt to the tune of 11 groundouts.
TMU’s six runs Friday matched the most Dreibelbis had allowed in a game this season.
“I told the guys … ‘Talent-wise, we’re right there,'” Brooks said. “… We have some talent, but we have to play smarter.”
And they have to hit in the clutch.
In the first inning, after Shackelford’s home run, the Mustangs left the bases loaded.
They left a man at third in the second. They had first and second with one out in the third before Dreibelbis induced a tailor-made double play.
Two base-running mistakes cost TMU, too. But even after Vanguard pulled even at 3-3 with two runs in the seventh, Master’s answered right back.
Catcher Ryan Bricker led off the seventh with a ground ball to third that was thrown away, allowing Bricker to take second.
Vanguard intentionally walked Shackelford. Then Maitland ripped a single to right and clenched his fists in celebration as he ran to first. Brooks initially held courtesy runner Ricky Sottile at third, but when the ball was misplayed in the outfield, Sottile sprinted home for the go-ahead run.
Then, with runners on the corners, Maitland got caught in a run down. Shackelford rushed home from third and slid head first. The umpire ruled that the catcher blocked the plate and waved his arms, safe.
Preston White banged a single into left to make it 6-3.
None of it came early enough to make a winner of Nate Bonsell, but the Mustang starter was strong over 6 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs (two earned) and pitched out of early danger.
In the first, with a run already in, runners at the corners, and one out, Bonsell fell behind Vanguard’s No. 5 hitter, 2-0. He rebounded to strike the hitter out. The next one, too.
“Just go pitch by pitch,” Bonsell said of his mindset in the first. “… I just wanted to throw strikes and not worry about five pitches ahead. Just get the next one right there.”
That’s the approach Master’s hopes to employ as it closes in on a berth in the conference tournament.
Here’s the box score.