Phoenix, AZ -- Tyler Krahn's groundout in the fifth inning put The Master's College ahead for good and Jason and Steve Karkenny combined for five strong innings as the 12th-ranked Mustangs outlasted Arizona Christian 8-6 in the first of a three-game series Friday afternoon.
The Mustangs' fifth win in a row lifted their overall record to 18-2 and 11-2 in the GSAC where, coupled with San Diego Christian's loss to Vanguard, they now enjoy a three-game lead atop the standings.
Krahn's groundout capped off a three-run fifth, putting the Mustangs up 6-5 after they had surrendered four runs to the Firestorm a half inning earlier. Spencer Toth (Asheville, NC) led off the frame with a single and local product Bryce Clancy (Phoenix, AZ), running for Toth, moved up 90 feet when Sam Robison (San Juan Capistrano, CA) drew a walk.
Moments later, Steve Karkenny (Chatsworth, CA) drove Clancy home with a single up the middle and then paired with Robison to pull off a double steal. After Jon Popadics (Boise, ID) walked to load the bases, Joe Riddle (Bakersfield, CA) plated Robison with a free pass of his own to tie the game at 5-5. One out later, Krahn grounded out to first base to score Karkenny, putting the Mustangs ahead to stay.
Getting the first crack at making that lead stick was Jason Karkenny. Making his staff-high ninth appearance of the season, the freshman reliever got two quick outs in the last of the fifth, then allowed a single and a stolen base before escaping on a groundout.
He used almost the same method an inning later, hitting a batter with two outs and then surrendering a single before picking off the runner he had plunked.
In the top of the seventh, Karkenny's teammates used the two-out approach to their advantage, giving him another run to work with. With one out, Popadics singled through the left side and stayed at first when Riddle flew out to right field. Ryan Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) then stepped to the plate and slammed a double to right-center field, bringing home Popadics and extending the lead to 7-5. The gapper tied Shackelford with Riddle for the team lead with eight doubles.
That proved to be a big run because the Firestorm small-balled their way to a tally in the bottom of the seventh, using a walk, a single, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly to slice the deficit to 7-6.
Defying previous practice, the Mustangs answered back in the top of the eighth, scoring the game's final run before an out was recorded. Collin Nyenhuis (Vista, CA) led off with a double down the left field line and courtesy runner Ethan Stine (Apple Valley, CA) sprinted home after the Firestorm tried to nab Josh Brown (Valencia, CA) who had singled.
The Mustangs then proceeded to load the bases with no outs but three consecutive popouts kept the club from expanding its 8-6 advantage.
That was okay because Karkenny (6-0), despite allowing a one-out single and walk, got out of an eighth-inning jam by getting an frame-ending double play, capping off a four-inning stint in which he allowed four hits and one run.
Steve Karkenny made sure his "little" brother stayed undefeated, going to the mound in the ninth and retiring all three Firestorm he faced for his second save of the year.
Earlier, the Mustangs erased a 1-0 deficit with a three-run third inning. Popadics' two-run, bases-loaded single highlighted the frame and put the Mustangs ahead 2-1. Steve Karkenny scored later in the inning on the second of two Firestorm errors in the inning, handing the Mustangs a two-run edge.
That lead dissolved in the bottom of the fourth when Mustang starter Tommy Kister (Saugus, CA) was let down by his usually stingy defense when a one-out error opened the floodgates for the Firestorm who scored four times to regain the lead (5-3) after drawing first blood with a run in the second inning.
Kister wound up going four innings, giving up just one earned run on six hits.
The Mustangs, who were outhit 10-9, were led by Popadics and Shackelford who had two hits apiece.
The two clubs meet again on Saturday when they play a doubleheader that starts at 11:00am MST.