At some point in the middle of the madness, amid an almost unprecedented barrage of home runs, Aaron Shackelford was asked whether he could have envisioned his senior year unfolding like this.
“No,” said The Master’s University shortstop. “Not in my wildest dreams.”
Shackelford produced one of the most prolific seasons in NAIA history nonetheless, and Tuesday he was awarded a title that said as much: NAIA Player of the Year.
Shackelford is the first athlete in the history of The Master’s University to be named an NAIA player of the year in any sport. He was joined on the NAIA All-American first team Tuesday by teammate Anthony Lepre, a Valencia High graduate.
“I’m humbled and super thankful to the Lord for this grace in my life,” said Shackelford. “I don’t deserve any of this, yet He’s given me the success and I’m so thankful.”
Shackelford tallied 36 home runs, 99 RBIs and a .415 batting average. He led the NAIA in nine offensive categories, and his home run total was the third most in a season in the history of the NAIA and by far the most in a season at TMU.
Entering the year, TMU’s single-season record for home runs was 19, and its all-time mark was 34.
Shackelford had 31 blasts to his name over his first three seasons. Then he went out and averaged .69 home runs a game as a senior, a faster pace than Beau Mills achieved in 2007 when Mills set the NAIA record with 38 home runs.
Shackelford leaves Master’s as the program’s all-time leader in home runs (67), RBIs (231), total bases (534), runs (215) and triples (15). He set TMU single-season records this year for runs (83), RBIs, home runs and slugging percentage (1.096).
“It’s been a joy to watch Aaron mature in his faith in Jesus Christ and develop into the greatest offensive player in our history,” said TMU coach Monte Brooks.
Lepre was actually the first to break TMU’s single-season home run record, hitting his 20th homer of the year on April 5. The senior ended the year as one of the greatest one-year performers in the history of the program, compiling 28 home runs, third most in the country, and 80 RBIs.
Lepre hit .438 for the year, the seventh-highest average in the country. He set TMU’s single-season record for hits with 91.
“He had the best season I’ve ever seen,” Shackelford said of Lepre. “It looked easy for him. He was an awesome teammate and really helped me with my swing throughout the year.”
Said Lepre, “It means a lot to me. I put in countless hours in the gym and in the cage to be able to perform to my best ability for Master’s, so it’s awesome to see things pay off in the end. But, it’s just one little step toward where I want to go.”
This is the first season in program history that Master’s has featured two first-team NAIA All-Americans.
“To be able to have the national player of the year and a first-teamer on the same team is really a double blessing from the Lord,” Brooks said. “We witnessed eye-popping performances all year long.”
Both Shackelford and Lepre are projected to be selected in this week’s MLB Draft. Rounds 3-10 were Tuesday, with neither player hearing his name. Rounds 11-40 are set for Wednesday.
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