Game Recap by Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
IRVINE — Senior Aaron Shackelford said last week he was confident the Mustangs could produce 10 runs regardless of day, time or opponent.
Master’s needed even more offense than that Monday in a game that lasted so long anyone present might’ve lost track of at least the day and time.
The Mustangs built a four-run lead in the top of the ninth, but a pair of TMU errors opened the door for Westmont to rally and tie on the way to a 16-15 victory in 12 innings at OC Great Park.
The game lasted more than five and a half hours, and its outcome dropped the Mustangs (32-16-1) into an elimination game at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday against Arizona Christian.
Shackelford hit his NAIA-best 33rd and 34th home runs of the year to lead an attack that recorded 18 hits.
Two of the biggest were Roy Verdejo‘s two-run single in the seventh to give Master’s a one-run lead and Kameron Quitno‘s two-run blast that created a four-run advantage in the ninth.
But the Mustangs made two errors with two outs in the final bit of regularly scheduled programming, allowing Westmont to extend a game already four hours long.
Master’s manufactured two runs in the top of the 10th, but Westmont answered with Luke Coffey’s two-run single.
With the bases loaded and two outs, TMU reliever Nick Brooks recovered from a 3-1 count to strike out Taylor Bush and keep Master’s alive. But the game ended in the 12th when Westmont’s Austin Muller walked with the bases loaded.
“We’ve just got to play better defensively,” Shackelford said. “Spirits are high. We’re excited to play some elimination games.”
With the bases loaded and TMU’s lead cut to 13-11 in the ninth, Isaiah Leach roped what could’ve been a walk-off, three-run hit, but the ball skipped over the fence for a ground-rule double, allowing only two to score.
TMU’s Aidan Stout later induced a fly out to force extra innings in a game with plenty of offense.
The teams combined for 35 hits.
TMU’s Anthony Lepre recorded four hits in the loss. Shackelford drove in five runs, walked intentionally four times and moved within four home runs of matching the NAIA’s all-time single-season record.
One thing TMU fans could be sure of this season when they entered Herwaldt Stadium or tuned in online was that the middle of the order would not change, either in personnel or in order: Shackelford would bat second, Lepre third.
The combination worked at a level rarely seen in the NAIA.
Entering Monday, Shackelford and Lepre had combined to hit more home runs (58) than all but 13 of the association’s 182 other teams.
However, when coach Monte Brooks turned his lineup card in for the first game of the GSAC tournament, he flipped the two sluggers, for the first time all year, and slid freshman Will Batz up into the leadoff spot.
The moves paid instant dividends.
In the top of the first, Batz and Lepre reached on infield singles. Then Shackelford bashed a pitch over the fence in left center.
It was Shackelford’s NAIA-leading 33rd homer of the year. Only two NAIA players since 2004 have hit more in a season.
Shackelford rushed through a hoard of teammates on his return to the dugout, taking hold of the team’s newest toy — a replica of the hammer made famous by Marvel Comics superhero Thor — and lifted it high into the air.
The Warriors were wary of pitching to Shackelford again. Westmont starter Grant Gardner walked Shackelford on four careful offerings in his second at-bat. And after Lepre drove in TMU’s fourth run with a double to deep left in the fourth, the Warriors were happy to issue Shackelford an intentional pass.
With Master’s leading 5-4 in the sixth, Gardner pitched to Shackelford, and Shackelford hit a towering fly ball over the fence in right center.
As he approached TMU’s dugout, he again took the hammer and thrust it above his head.
The hammer held no sway over the Warriors.
In the sixth, Westmont scored five runs to wash away what had been a three-run deficit, taking its first lead of the game.
TMU starter Robert Winslow (pictured above) pitched into the sixth inning, allowing six runs (five earned) on nine hits. But when Westmont put men at second and third with no outs, Brooks summoned ace reliever Stout from the bullpen.
Tyler Roper greeted Stout with an RBI single. Coffey reached on one of TMU’s four errors. And Bryce Morison clubbed a two-run double to left that gave Westmont a 9-7 advantage.
For the Mustangs, the feeling was familiar.
Master’s dropped all four in a set at Westmont on April 12 and 13. The culprits were untimely errors and imprecise pitching. Master’s managed an 8.24 ERA and allowed the Warriors to hit .344 as a team.
Morison was more than a pest.
The senior hit .583 with four home runs and 11 RBIs on his way to conference player of the week honors.
To counteract the slugger, Brooks deployed a fourth outfielder Monday during Morison’s at-bats when no one was on first, sending second baseman Ryan Bricker into right field.
The shift couldn’t help in the sixth, though, when Morison clubbed his go-ahead double. Still, the Mustangs had more left in the tank.
Lepre grounded out to short to score Bricker from third and bring Master’s to within 9-8. Then after an intentional walk to Shackelford and a walk to Max Maitland, Verdejo dunked a two-strike pitch into left-center that brought two runs home.
The game was only beginning.
Here’s the box score.