By Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
COSTA MESA — The similarities between the two teams that met for an elimination game at Dean Harvey Field late Tuesday afternoon were striking.
Master’s and Hope International each advanced to last season’s NAIA World Series. Both teams entered 2018 with high rankings in the coaches poll. Both weathered up-and-down campaigns to claim the final spots in this week’s Golden State Athletic Conference tournament.
That’s where their paths diverged. Only one squad could extend its season beyond Tuesday.
Hope beat the Mustangs, 8-2, in a game that ended TMU’s run of two straight GSAC tournament titles and, in all likelihood, its season. Master’s (28-25) would appear to be a long shot to earn an at-large berth to the NAIA national tournament, in which it had made five straight appearances.
“Baseball is unforgiving,” said TMU junior Eric Williams.
The Royals (27-25) scored three runs in the second inning with the help of two errors. They added two more, and chased the Mustangs’ starter, in the third, making a clean break from TMU that never came a day earlier.
In Monday’s tournament opener, Master’s scored a run in the ninth inning to force extras, beating Hope in the 13th inning and evoking memories of last year’s epic playoff run. The rematch — after TMU’s 3-2 loss to No. 1 seed William Jessup late Monday and Hope’s win over Vanguard on Tuesday morning — held no such magic.
Hope starter Dominic Potlongo limited Master’s to six hits in a complete-game effort. Master’s finally broke through on the scoreboard in the seventh: Aaron Shackelford walked. Preston White singled, and when Hope tried to turn a double play, the ball got away, allowing Shackelford to scamper home. But the offense never generated any noticeable momentum, continuing a tournament-long trend.
Two bright spots came from the bullpen.
Williams inherited an undesirable situation in the third, entering the game with two on and no outs, the score already 5-0.
The junior righty went to work. He struck out the first batter he faced. Then he induced a groundout. He hit a batter but rebounded to get a fly out and end the groundout. Freshman A.J. MacCaughtry came on in similar danger in the sixth.
The Royals had already added a run, and they had loaded the bases with two outs. MacCaughtry recorded a ground out to strand three, and he carried on to throw 3 1/3 innings of two-run baseball.
He figures to be part of TMU’s plans for 2019 when a host of contributors return, headlined by All-GSAC shortstop Aaron Shackelford and junior center fielder Max Maitland.
Maitland has tallied 207 career hits. He is 10th on TMU’s all-time list and poised to make a run at Steven Karkenny’s all-time mark of 255. Shackelford’s 31 home runs are tied for fourth most all-time. Michael Sexton set the record of 34 in two seasons.
Here’s the box score.
“I’m excited,” Shackelford, a junior, said. “We have some really good pitchers, young pitchers, young players. It will be fun. … We have the same expectations coming in next year.”
Another positive Tuesday came in Ethan Brandt‘s final collegiate at-bat. The senior doubled to deep left field.