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TMC baseball preview: Young and restless

Youthful TMC team ready to prove people wrong

Posted: February 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The Master’s College utility players Bryan Mitchell, left, and Tanner Leighton participate in drills during practice on Tuesday at Reese Field.

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It’s hard to classify The Master’s College baseball team in terms of its style.

One thing in undeniable though, the team is young and inexperienced.

Of the 23 players on the roster, just five of them are seniors. Seven are freshman.

Head coach Monte Brooks is anything but concerned about the youth, though.

In fact, he went as far as comparing the 2010 squad to a famous NBA star.

“LeBron James is young,” Brooks said. “But he has success.”

In his 14th season with the program, Brooks admits its one of the youngest teams he’s seen.

But it also has a certain energy and vigor he hasn’t seen since his early years with the club.

“I really like the makeup of our club,” Brooks said. “I like the enthusiasm, the unity of the group. There’s a like-minded state and there’s a diligence to their work.”

So far, it’s translated into some success for the Mustangs, especially at the plate.

Nine games into the season, TMC is 6-3 and boasts a team batting average of .294.

Freshman Joe Riddle, for example, already has two home runs, seven RBIs, and carries a .400 batting average.

Fortunately for the Mustangs, they are a team capable of scoring in many different ways besides the long ball.

“It’s a pretty good mixture,” said three-year starter Ben Ives. “Not a ton of speed, a couple guys that can run, a couple guys that can hit bombs, but really, one through nine, I think we’re pretty good. All nine of us can probably hit over .300.”

Last year, not a single player reached double-digit homers, and to top it off, the teams lost its two best home-run hitters, Steve Vranau and Joe Zeller, to graduation.

Zeller is currently in the Chicago Cubs organization.

Last year was a different situation though, as the club dealt with a plethora of injuries that hit early in the season, which ended at a disappointing 26-25 and fifth place in the Golden State Athletic Conference.

One of them was to Zack Anderson, a possible Major League Baseball pitching prospect who underwent Tommy John surgery last summer.

This year, TMC likes its chances with a versatile lineup that features promising freshmen like Riddle, and experienced players like Ives.

“I think people are expecting us to drop off and not be very good, but just from what I’ve seen so far, I think we can surprise people and be a lot better than people think,” Ives said.

Ives, who is .448 thus far, also brings speed to the lineup.

Sophomore catcher Chris Talley should do a lot of the same, as he was the only player to finish above .400 on last year’s squad.

It’s the new faces that are turning heads at TMC, though.

They are the ones giving the team the boost it needs.

“They’re jovial, enthusiastic, they are teachable,” Brooks said. “They have responded very well. They have responded daily.”

One of those new faces is Tanner Leighton, a junior transfer from Skagit Valley College in Boise, Idaho, who has lit up the stat sheet with a .441 average and seven RBIs.

He has played both shortstop and center field this year, and Brooks said he brings superb fielding skills to the table.
On the pitching side, the key will be matchups.

Unlike past years, this year’s staff is a finesse and “strike-throwing” group, Brooks said.

Though most of the pitchers won’t throw into the 90s, they’ll rely on command and location when facing some of the country’s top baseball teams.

The Mustangs weren’t picked to finish among the top six in the GSAC, which has three teams voted in the preseason Top 25 NAIA coaches poll — more than any other conference.

Conference play beings on Feb. 24 for TMC against San Diego Christian.

“There is no weak link. These schools recruit California kids, or a majority of California kids, and its year-round baseball for these kids,” Brooks said of the GSAC opponents. “You can’t let your guard down.”

TMC will lean on junior starting pitcher Tyler Bersano to hold off the gauntlet of GSAC hitters.

He is undoubtedly the team’s ace after proving to be one of the most consistent inning-eating hurlers on the staff last year.
Brooks also has high hopes for sophomore J.T. Adams, a Canyon High graduate who has power hitting ability to go along with his pitching.

The Mustangs finished with a 5.40 team ERA last season.

To get back into the postseason where they were two seasons ago, Brooks said a lot of attention will be paid to maintaining a disciplined attitude on the mound.

“We stress that there are a lot of MLB guys that don’t throw over 90 and are very successful,” Brooks said.

No clear closer has emerged, but two freshmen James Scott (Hart) and Tommy Kister (Saugus), along with sophomore Daniel Sheaffer will rotate between setup and closer roles, depending on matchups.

Ives openly admitted that this will likely be a team that relies on a lot of run scoring.

To this point, they haven’t had a problem doing that.

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