By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
IRVINE — A few years ago, Anthony Lepre was playing for one of the best community college baseball teams in California, a program that just so happened to be across town from The Master’s University.
Each fall, Lepre and his College of the Canyons teammates would host the Mustangs and a shaggy-haired underclassman named Aaron Shackelford.
“He used to have long hair,” said Lepre, now a senior catcher at Master’s. “I thought he was the biggest weirdo ever, but then I met him and he was one of the nicest dudes.”
Something else caught Lepre’s attention.
“I remember I was telling my coach, ‘This guy has the best swing I think I’ve ever seen,'” Lepre, a Valencia High grad, said. “He used to hit it out all the time or off the wall with a liner.”
Shackelford has long since tamed his do, but his hallmark power is operating at an all-time high wattage. The senior shortstop leads the NAIA in home runs (32), RBIs (84) and a bevy of other offensive categories.
Lepre has been nearly as dangerous, mashing 26 home runs with 73 RBIs.
Combined, the duo has hit more home runs than all but 12 teams in the NAIA.
Monday, the Golden State Athletic Conference announced Shackelford as its Player of the Year and Lepre and Saugus grad Robert Winslow as All-GSAC selections.
Shackelford, an All-GSAC pick a year ago, is the first Mustang to earn the conference’s top offensive honor since Steven Karkenny in 2013.
“This is just a testimony to the Lord because I really haven’t changed that much mechanically,” said Shackelford, who hit 31 home runs combined his first three seasons.
Entering the year, that number put him within range of breaking what was then TMU’s all-time home run record of 34. Now, he may reach that mark in a single season.
“He’s had a staggering year, but more so, an amazing career,” said TMU coach Monte Brooks.
The combination of Shackelford and Lepre has been close to unstoppable.
For the better part of the year, Shackelford and Lepre traded home runs like cheap baseball cards, Lepre breaking TMU’s decade-old, single-season home run record on April 5 with his 20th blast.
Shackelford tied the mark the next time through the order. Then Lepre set it anew two minutes later.
Lepre, in his own right, has had one of the greatest seasons in Master’s history after transferring in from UC Riverside. He’s batting a team-high .432 with a slugging percentage of .951. His bat in the middle of the order has helped transform a lineup that struggled to score last year into one of the country’s best.
“One of the greatest single-season efforts I’ve ever observed,” Brooks said. “I love his commitment to details and his dedication to be the best. He has elevated the intensity of our team.”
Winslow has been the team’s unquestioned ace. The senior right-hander leads the GSAC in strikeouts (100) and shares that distinction in wins (10).
He hasn’t lost a decision in nearly two months, and he holds an ERA of 3.24, displaying a low-90s fastball that has drawn professional scouts to Newhall.
At TMU’s senior day ceremony recently, Winslow drew high praise from Brooks.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching him blossom year by year into one of the best pitchers in program history,” Brooks said.
The Mustangs are currently playing in the GSAC tournament in Irvine. For updates, visit GoMustangs.com.