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TMC baseball: Overcoming the count

The Mustangs are struggling with injuries, but Zeller’s versatility is helping to keep the team in c

Posted: March 12, 2010 10:38 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2010 4:30 a.m.

The Master's College pitcher Joe Zeller throws a pitch at Reese Field on Thursday. Zeller, a two-time all-Golden State Athletic Conference senior, leads the team on the mound and at the plate. He has a .338 batting average, a team-leading 17 RBIs and a 2.41 ERA in six starts for the Mustangs.

Don’t count out The Master’s College baseball team.

The Mustangs took a 9-4 loss to Fresno Pacific on Wednesday in the first game of a doubleheader, but it bounced right back.

The key?

They gave the ball to pitcher Joe Zeller.

TMC took the second half of the doubleheader that afternoon 6-4, thanks in no small part to an eight-inning, one-earned-run performance on the mound.

Zeller also helped out his own cause, finishing 2-for-4 with an RBI at the plate to compliment his 10-strikeout gem.

He’s been a linchpin all over the field for a Mustangs’ squad that has battled injuries and struggled offensively.

“When he’s on the mound or he’s at the plate, we know we have a shot,” says TMC head coach Monte Brooks. “He just gives you a great opportunity to win the battle.”

“Battle” is an appropriate word to describe the Mustangs’ run through the Golden State Athletic Conference gauntlet so far this season.

TMC’s 11-9 overall record and 5-5 mark in conference play don’t necessarily show how tough the team fights, but a closer look at the numbers does.

The Mustangs lost by a combined four runs in four GSAC defeats. The only conference squad to beat them by more than a run was Fresno, which had the favor returned later in the afternoon.

The key has been Zeller.

The senior stays positive and says the best is definitely yet to come — for himself and the Mustangs.

“With the two pitches that I just started throwing, there’s a really steep learning curve,” Zeller says. “Even from start to start, my slider is something I’m really working on, just the command of all the pitches. That’s the two main things I’m working on right now.”

Stages of development aren’t always a talking point for a three-year starter that earned a pair of all-conference nods.

But the Mustangs’ pitching has put them in a lot of good positions. Part of that has been a solid all-around staff, led by Zeller, David Goodenough and Tyler Bersano.

Goodenough’s 1.27 ERA is leading the team, and Bersano’s 3-1 record may be tops in the bullpen.

Zeller says he gets better command of his arsenal with each start, evidenced by his 2.41 ERA.

He says he gets more control on his cutter and split-finger fastball — his two latest additions — with each trip to the mound.

According to Brooks, the way Zeller constantly makes room for improvement is his biggest asset to the team.

At least that was the closest Brooks could come to answering whether the Loyola Marymount University transfer was more valuable at the mound or the plate.

“His biggest impact is his competitiveness on the field — just his passion and his desire to take on challenges,” he says.

Injuries have put a lot of pressure on the Mustangs’ remaining healthy bats. That’s where Zeller’s .338 batting average and team-leading 17 RBIs have proven to be crucial, Brooks says.

Catcher Chris Talley, who is second on the team with 14 RBIs despite playing only 13 games, may not return this season after being hit by an errant bat that gave him a severe concussion. Teammates Bryan Lucas and Tyler Gulley suffered preseason ligament tears that could also sideline them for the rest of the year.

The trick, Zeller says, is to take everything game by game.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, and then once you do that, anything can happen,” Zeller says. “There’s no reason to put a limit on our goals.”



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