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TMC exceeded expectations in 2013; will it do that again in 2014?

Posted: February 10, 2014 10:17 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2014 10:17 p.m.

The Master's College's Steve Karkenny warms up with a teammate at Reese Field on Feb. 5. Karkenny was an NAIA First-Team All-American in 2013 for a Mustangs team that finished sixth in the NAIA World Series.

 

The Master’s College baseball team posted arguably the most successful season in program history in 2013.
TMC won its conference’s regular season and tournament titles, before finishing sixth at the NAIA World Series. The Mustangs won a school record 45 games.

But despite returning over half of last year’s team, not everyone thinks they can repeat last year’s success.
Golden State Athletic Conference coaches voted TMC to finish second behind Concordia University in the 2014 preseason conference poll.  

“You scratch your head at it in the beginning, but all that matters is who’s on top at the end,” said TMC junior shortstop Jon Popadics. “(You’ve got to) love people doubting you; it’s fun to prove people wrong.”

A big reason for the GSAC’s lack of confidence might’ve been their perception of TMC’s pitching.

All-GSAC pitchers A.J. Work and Tyler Elrod graduated.

Seniors James Scott and Andrew Klausmeier — TMC’s most dynamic, returning pitchers — weren’t available to start the season.

And the Mustangs’ bullpen was unproven.

TMC’s biggest strength a year ago was marked by questions entering 2014.

But the Mustangs may have already answered some of those questions; they’re 13-2 to start the year, their team ERA is 2.12 and they beat Concordia two out of three games over the weekend.

Scott and Klausmeier pitched in game two of the Concordia series; neither allowed an earned run in a combined eight innings. It was Scott’s first appearance of the year, Klausmeier’s second.

In their absence, seniors Tommy Kister and Tucker Richardson have transitioned seamlessly from the bullpen to the starting rotation. And a young group, led by freshman Jason Karkenny, has pitched well at the end of games

“Our pitching staff is the backbone of our team,” said TMC head coach Monte Brooks, who recently won his 500th game. “Pitching is the main ingredient for successful teams.”

Another ingredient is offense, and TMC’s lineup looks a lot like it did last year with junior left fielder Steven Karkenny at its center.

Karkenny — an NAIA first team All-American in 2013—is the reigning GSAC player of the year and a preseason All-American.

As a sophomore, he batted .346 with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs, while stealing 25 bases.

Karkenny is protected in the lineup by senior designated hitter Joe Riddle.

“Riddle is a big, big, big piece of the puzzle (offensively),” Brooks said.

Another big piece is junior shortstop Jon Popadics.

TMC’s leadoff hitter—an All-GSAC selection last year—batted .348 with 20 doubles and 63 runs scored as a sophomore.

“Jon’s the best shortstop in the GSAC; he hits the ball all over the field,” Karkenny said. “He’s been a huge part of our team for three years now.”

The Mustangs also return center fielder Caleb Halverson, second baseman Sam Robison and third baseman Ryan Shackelford.

The year’s biggest hit so far came from a newcomer though. Junior transfer Josh Brown—a Hart High graduate—delivered a game-winning, two-RBI single in the ninth inning of the first game at San Diego Christian.

“He’s an athlete with range and great hands,” said Brooks of Brown, who’ll likely see time at first base and in the outfield.

Seven of the Mustangs’ nine starters are batting over .330 so far.

Senior Spencer Toth has started every game at catcher and sophomore transfer Tyler Krahn has started 14 games in the outfield.

Behind his starters, Brooks says he hasn’t had similar depth since 2009, with seven capable subs.   

He may need all of them for TMC to finish a grueling GSAC schedule as champions—a feat some people don’t think the Mustangs can replicate.    

And that’s OK. TMC isn’t simply trying to repeat anything.

“We left with a bad taste after losing in the World Series,” Kister said. “We want to go back and win it all.”

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