Lawrenceville, Ga. -- Squeezing was the active strategy for The Master's University in the win over host Georgia Gwinnett, the top seed of the Lawrenceville bracket, as Aaron Shackelford's squeeze bunt in the eighth inning plated courtesy runner Ricky Sottile with what proved to be the deciding run in a 4-3 victory over the No. 14 Grizzlies.
The one word that might describe The Master's University baseball team best is determination.
As in going 15-3 over the final 18 regular-season games to qualify for the GSAC Tournament. As in losing the first game of that tourney and then running the table with five straight wins to claim the championship.
As in flying to the Deep South (Georgia) as a qualifier in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round only to play an 8:00am (PST) opener. As in rallying late to win that game over LSU Shreveport before squeezing by host Georgia Gwinnett later in the day to take another improbable step toward the NAIA World Series.
The win vaults TMU into a winners' bracket matchup tomorrow against Webber International (Fla.).
To get there, the Mustangs had to rally from a 3-1 deficit against the Grizzlies. They started with two runs in the seventh inning, both scoring with two outs. David Sheaffer kept the inning alive with a single to center field, moved up 90 feet on Jason Karkenny's infield single, and scored on Caleb Menez' base hit up the middle.
Moments later, the Mustangs tied the game when Dalton deVries stroked a clutch single to left field, plating Karkenny with the tying run.
After starter Robert Winslow and reliever Danny Lutz combined to shut down the Grizzlies in the last of the seventh, the offense went back to work in the top of the eighth.
With one out, Jonah Jarrard doubled to the gap in right-center field and was run for by Sottile. Michael Sexton followed with a single up the middle that moved Sottile to third base from where he scored the go-ahead run on Shackelford's clutch execution.
Lutz took over from there. The senior righthander (2-1) retired all six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings, five of those by strikeouts, including one to finish off the win.
Much earlier, Winslow was both superb and unfortunate. After giving up a run in the last of the first, he kept the Grizzlies off the scoreboard until the fifth when a trio of errors led to two unearned runs and a 3-1 Gwinnett advantage.
He lasted 6 1/3 innings and deserved better than a no-decision. He struck out five, scattered six hits, and lowered his earned-run average to 2.92.
On the other side, Winslow's counterpart, Nikolay Uherek kept the Mustangs at bay through the first three innings, retiring the first seven batters he faced before deVries ripped a one-out single in the third.
However, in the top of the fourth, Max Maitland greeted him with a leadoff homer to tie the game. It was the freshman centerfielder's third roundtripper of the season.
After producing 12 hits in the opening-game win over LSU Shreveport, the Mustangs had 11 more against the Grizzlies. deVries went 3-for-4 and Menez was 2-for-4.
Now, the Mustangs set their sights on a second-seeded Webber International team that shut out No. 3 seed Central Methodist 3-0 earlier in the day. The squads have never faced each other before and at stake is a berth in the Opening Round championship game. The first pitch will be thrown at noon PDT.