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An early-season, home-friendly schedule was supposed to be a major plus for The Master’s College baseball team, playing 14 of its first 17 games in the favorable confines of Reese Field. And, it was as the Mustangs went 10-4 in those contests.
But, since then, the Mustangs have lost three in a row on their home turf, including Saturday’s 8-2 and 5-1 sweep at the hands of Fresno Pacific, capping a lost week in which they failed to earn a win in four games against the No. 15 Sunbirds.
The prime culprit was a dominating Sunbird pitching staff that limited the Mustangs to just five total runs, including a trio of one-run outings, and 27 hits. Meanwhile, the Sunbirds ganged up on Mustang pitching to the tune of 26 runs on 41 hits.
Eight of those tallies came in Saturday’s opener when the Sunbirds scored six times in the final four innings to post their six-run win.
They struck first in the top of the second when a J. T. Adams’ pitch plunked a Sunbird with the bases loaded, forcing in the game’s first run. Two innings later, a two-out rally, capped by a steal of home increased Fresno’s lead to 2-0.
They made it 4-0 in the sixth, knocking Adams (1-2) around for four hits, scoring twice more on a pair of run-scoring singles.
Up to that point, the Mustang offense had been silenced by Sunbird starter Aaron Lynn. Through the first five innings he had allowed three hits and retired 10 Mustangs in a row in one stretch. He did squelch a pair of rallies in the first and fifth innings, respectively, but in the sixth the Mustangs finally dented the scoreboard.
With two out, Joe Riddle doubled to the alley in left center field and Spencer Downs, pinch hitting for Jared Otto, and James Scott walked to load the bases. Cody Harris followed with a base hit through the right side to plate Riddle with the club’s first run and the bases were still filled with Mustangs. But, Lynn escaped further damage when he got Bryan Lucas to ground out to end the inning.
The Mustangs had another chance in the seventh to carve into the lead but Sunbird reliever David Hawes, after allowing an inning-opening double by Ben Ives and walking Tanner Leighton, buckled down and retired the next three Mustangs he faced.
A pair of Mustang relievers, Daniel Sheaffer and Tommy Kister, weren’t so fortunate. Sheaffer gave up a leadoff homer and a run-scoring single in a two-run eighth for the Sunbirds while Kister was the victim of some shoddy defense as two Mustang errors in the top of the ninth led to two more runs.
Down 8-1 going to the bottom of the ninth, the Mustangs made some noise but not nearly enough. With one out, Ives drew a walk and went to second on defensive indifference. After Leighton struck out, Adams singled up the middle to score Ives with the game’s final run.
Ives was the only Mustang to have more than one hit, collecting three of the team’s nine hits.
In the seven-inning nightcap, the Mustang offense was stifled again, this time by Sunbird starter Ryan Castadio. The junior tossed five solid innings, allowing six hits and one earned one while striking out three and walking no one.
The Mustangs’ lone run came in in quick fashion in the bottom of the second after the Sunbirds had nicked starter A. J. Work (3-2) for a tally in the top of the frame. Riddle led off the second with a home run to right field, a solo blast and his third of the season that knotted the game at one.
But, the Sunbirds didn’t take long to unlock the tie, using a leadoff double and a two-out single to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the third. That lead was doubled in the fourth when Michael Rivera homered with two outs for a 3-1 advantage.
The Sunbirds pushed their run-scoring innings to four in a row in the fifth when they put the game away with two more runs as a single from Wes Dorrell brought in two of his teammates for a four-run cushion.
Castadio closed out his five-inning stint in style, setting the Mustangs down in the order in the bottom of the frame before handing the ball over to the Sunbird bullpen.
The Sunbirds gave the Mustangs a faint hope in the sixth when Talley, leading off, reached on an error and Riddle singled to right field. They would both move up 90 feet later in the inning but no further as reliever Aaron Kirkpatrick struck out one Mustang and then got a couple of ground balls to put an end to the rally.
It was their final chance as Michael Rivera put the Mustangs down in order in the bottom of the ninth, finishing the game strong with strikeouts of Ives and Leighton.
Outhit 9-7, the Mustangs were led by Ives’ two hits.
Reeling from a four-game losing streak, the Mustangs (13-10 overall, 4-6 GSAC) get a couple of days off before hosting Concordia on Tuesday afternoon in the first of a four-game series. Tuesday and Wednesday’s games on Reese Field start at 3:00pm.