It was a tale of two games on Wednesday afternoon at Lou Herwaldt stadium, as The Master’s University baseball team faced Arizona Christian University in back-to-back contests that were continuations of games originally played on Feb. 22 and 23.
The Mustangs won the first game 9-4, which started in the top of the second inning at 0-0 but lost the second matchup 11-8, which began in the bottom of the sixth inning with TMU holding a 6-4 advantage.
There was one common denominator in both contests: the majority of the runs for both teams were scored in a single inning.
“Big inning in both games. Most games are won in one big inning and that’s what it was today,” TMU head coach Monte Brooks said. “We had the first one, they had the second one.”
For the Mustangs (28-14-1), it was the bottom of the third inning in the first game when they put up eight runs to give themselves a sizeable lead they would not relinquish.
For the Firestorm (31-18), it happened in their only inning of play in the second game, as they scored seven runs in the top of the seventh, including a grand slam.
Senior pitcher Robert Winslow earned the win in the first contest, pitching a complete game and logging 13 strikeouts, allowing nine hits and four runs.
The Saugus grad established his presence from the get-go, striking out the first three batters he faced. He used a wide array of pitches to pound the zone and get the Mustangs off to a hot start.
“It was a good way to start off definitely. My team was able to get a couple runs, get me a lead, I think it was good for everybody,” Winslow said. “My fastball, splitter, slider, curveball, I was able to throw all of them for strikes for the most part and that helped a lot.”
“He came up big for us today, he knew he needed to do that. We got a big lead for him that gave him a little bit of wiggle room,” Brooks said about Winslow. “The main thing is throw strikes, make them beat you. It was good to see him, a senior, have an opportunity to be a bulldog in that situation and put his team in a good spot.”
TMU scored its first run in the bottom of the second, starting with sophomore first baseman Kameron Quitno getting on base with a walk. Sophomore catcher Byron Smith swung at the first pitch he saw and singled to left field, then moved to second base and Quitno advanced to third after an ACU error.
Junior designated hitter Ryan Bricker hit a single to right field, scoring Quitno and giving the Mustangs an early 1-0 lead.
Bricker, who was batting in the No. 8 spot, finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Along with Smith, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI and walk in the No. 7 spot, and sophomore left fielder Nick Tuttle, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored in the six-hole, the bottom half of the lineup delivered for the Mustangs. Sophomore second baseman Jeremiah Farris, batting ninth, also got on base twice with two walks.
“One through nine we’ve got good players, so we, of course, have guys at the top of the lineup that are performing and having great years. When the guys at the bottom of the lineup contribute, it helps even more so,” Bricker said. “We’re just trying to put together good at-bats and do our jobs. Ultimately when we do that, it’s going to be a good result.”
ACU was able to even the score in the top of the third, but the Mustangs’ scoring explosion started shortly after, beginning with a triple to center field from senior shortstop Aaron Shackelford. He was brought home by freshman right fielder Will Batz, who executed a flawless bunt to earn the RBI and reach base safely.
Quitno walked once again, then Tuttle took a page out of Batz’s book and reached first safely with a precise bunt, loading the bases. Smith was walked, giving the Mustangs a run, followed by a single from Bricker, bringing Quitno across home plate. Tuttle also scored on the play after an error from ACU.
Farris got on base with a walk, then senior center fielder Max Maitland logged an RBI on a fielder’s choice, scoring freshman Brayden Luft, who had come in as a pinch-runner for Smith.
Shackelford came up to the plate for his second at-bat of the inning and walked, leading to a base hit from senior third baseman Anthony Lepre, scoring Bricker.
Batz came up with his second hit of the inning, doubling to left center and scoring Maitland and Shackelford. Quitno walked for the third time, before the inning ended with a fly out from Tuttle.
Batz finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored. Lepre went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
“You’re trying to execute and make things happen. We were able to put the ball in play and make them make plays,” Brooks said. “We have to have quality at-bats. Every player is trying to develop, every player is trying to win pitches and execute and put ourselves in a good position. The emphasis is winning pitches. We have to be a team in order to be successful. Everybody has to contribute.”
The Firestorm were able to score three more runs combined in the sixth and seventh inning, but the large cushion gave TMU the breathing room it needed.
“I love it when that happens,” Winslow said with a smile. “When you have those runs it’s a lot easier to pitch. I’m much more confident.”
Though the Mustangs started the second game with a 6-4 lead and added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to make it 8-4 heading into the last inning of play, they weren’t able to hold off a furious two-out rally from the Firestorm.
After manufacturing a run to make the score 8-5, ACU junior Jake Sim came in as a pinch-hitter and smashed a grand slam over the right field fence to put the Firestorm up for good.
“Athletics is a perseverance and endurance run. These guys have to be mentally tough and overcome, so that’s the situation we’re in,” Brooks said. “But in baseball, there’s many games, that’s what it makes it so fun. You get another shot.”
“Just put it behind us, short-term memory. Get ready for tomorrow, work on a couple of things,” Winslow said. “It’s baseball, anything can happen, but just forget about today and get ready for tomorrow. Do what we do.”
TMU will host Bethesda University on Thursday for a 3 p.m. start. The Mustangs are 4-0 against the Flames so far this season.