Lawrenceville, Ga. -- In a postseason dominated by a prolific offense, The Master's University tossed in a gutsy pitching performance by senior Jason Karkenny Wednesday afternoon to beat Georgia Gwinnett 9-1 and punch its ticket to the NAIA World Series for the second consecutive year.
The win over the host Grizzlies gave the Mustangs their first-ever four-game sweep in the National Championship Opening Round and was their ninth in 10 postseason contests in 2017 as they improved to 39-21.
After developing arm problems midway through his final collegiate campaign, Karkenny was shut down until last week (May 9) at the GSAC Tournament when he made his first start since March 25. He struggled mightily in that game against Vanguard, but on Wednesday he shrugged that off with his finest outing of the season, scattering nine hits in a complete-game performance that featured six strikeouts. Already the winningest pitcher in program history, Karkenny now has 35 career wins.
He reached that point by sandwiching a couple of four shutout innings around a fifth inning in which the Grizzlies scored their only run. Through the first four frames, Karkenny allowed a single an inning and stranded four, while down the stretch he wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings, and recorded the final three outs in the ninth after allowing a leadoff single. All that added up to 136 pitches, the most the righthander has thrown this season.
Karkenny got plenty of help from his offensive teammates, especially from the fifth inning on.
The Mustangs dented the scoreboard in the third inning, using three hits to break on top 2-0. Max Maitland, who duplicated his four-hit outing from yesterday, laced a one-out single to right-center field and advanced to second base on an error by Grizzly pitcher Myles Smith. A groundout moved him to third from where he scored on Michael Sexton's two-out single to center field. Aaron Shackelford followed with a ringing double to right field and Sexton scored to make it 2-0.
Two innings later, Sexton came up big again and the Mustangs doubled their advantage. His one-out, two-run single to left-center plated Matt Janes, who had drawn a leadoff walk, and Maitland, who had singled again, for a 4-0 lead.
The Grizzlies scored their only run of the game in the last of the fifth when they parlayed a single and a double off Karkenny to slice the gap to 4-1.
However, the Mustangs answered in the top of the seventh with three runs to extend the cushion to 7-1. They sandwiched run-scoring doubles from Shackelford and Dalton deVries around a David Sheaffer RBI single.
In the eighth, they added a single run on a Jarrard base hit that brought home courtesy runner Josh Robison and put the icing on the victory in the ninth when Shackelford ripped a leadoff triple to right-center field and scored moments later on Sheaffer's school-record 17th sacrifice fly of the season.
After rapping out a season-high 19 hits yesterday, the Mustangs collected 15 more against the Grizzlies. Maitland and Shackelford each went 4-for-5 while Jarrard and Sexton had two hits apiece. Over the three games in the Opening Round, the Mustangs hit at a remarkable .389 clip.
Following a grueling stretch of 10 games in 11 days covering the GSAC Tournament and the Opening Round, the Mustangs get some much-needed rest ahead of the NAIA World Series that starts on May 26 in Lewiston, Idaho.