Like a football player performing an up-down drill in the dog days of summer, Lewis-Clark State first baseman J.J. Robinson laid out to stop a sizzling ground ball, hopped to his feet and dove again to beat Dalton deVries to the bag, ending The Master’s University’s fourth-inning scoring threat Wednesday.
From there, each inning shared a common theme: little TMU offense.
The Mustangs knocked down NAIA No. 1-ranked LC State with two early runs, but the Warriors found their footing in time to silence TMU in a 4-2 road win.
Tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Warrior Evan Douglas made reliever Scott Savage pay for two walks and a passed ball by belting a two-RBI single.
The bottom of the ninth ended with a double play and a strikeout.
“It’s a tough one when you’re up two to nothing and blow the lead,” said TMU catcher David Sheaffer. “It’s definitely a heartbreaker. But we know what kind of club we have, and we know we can play with the best.”
The No. 11 Mustangs (5-4) led the NAIA’s best for seven innings.
Spotted a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Saugus High graduate Robert Winslow pitched three scoreless innings to start a game in which TMU used five pitchers so it could save its staff for a conference-opening series this weekend.
“He threw great. He commanded his fastball well and kept hitters off balance a little bit with his breaking ball,” Sheaffer said of Winslow, who was making his third start of the year. His ERA is 1.29. “I wish he could have gone more innings for us, but he did an outstanding job.”
The Mustangs and Warriors (3-2) last met in 2013, when the Idaho-based powerhouse scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to eliminate the Mustangs from the NAIA World Series.
Wednesday wasn’t as dramatic, but the Mustangs again surrendered a trio of late runs to erase a strong start.
TMU’s Michael Sexton, who transferred from LC State before last season, drove in a run with a line-drive single in the first inning, and Sheaffer followed with a sacrifice fly. But TMU managed only three hits overall, one after the first inning, while striking out 10 times and leaving little room for error to its relief pitchers.
The Warriors, winners of the last two NAIA World Series and 18 in all, scored a run in the fifth and tied the game on Raymond Pedrina’s RBI single in the eighth.
Then the game went sideways for TMU in the ninth, leading to the Mustangs’ fourth loss in their last six games. TMU uncharacteristically walked seven batters.
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“For the most part, till the end, we threw strikes,” said TMU coach Monte Brooks. “We got out of jams until the end when walks cost us two runs.”
Errors had been the main culprit in TMU’s uneven start. Entering Wednesday, the Mustangs had made 23. They made 64 errors in 61 games last year.
“It’s still early in the season, but all our guys know that we have to be better,” Sheaffer said.
The Mustangs will open Golden State Athletic Conference play Saturday on the road against Hope International of Fullerton.