Santa Clarita, Calif. -- Pinch-hitter Brett Piper drove in the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning and A. J. Work tossed his second consecutive complete game to lift The Master's College past Arizona Christian 4-3 Thursday afternoon in a first-round game of the GSAC Tournament on Reese Field.
The victory, which set a new program record for wins (38-15), vaulted the No. 1-seeded and seventh-ranked Mustangs into a tournament winners' bracket game on Friday against second-seeded Concordia, a 5-4 winner over San Diego Christian earlier in day.
Despite throwing their ace, the Mustangs expected a difficult time from the Firestorm, against whom they had split six decisions during the regular season. They got it, too, much of it of their own doing in the early going.
Work (Boise, ID) wasn't himself over the first three frames and neither was a normally reliable defense, which came into the game ranked second in the country in fielding percentage. The Firestorm took advantage in the first inning, roughing up Work for two runs on three hits and using an error to jump to a 2-0 lead. Two innings later, when the Mustangs committed two more miscues and Work gave up another run on two hits, the club found itself behind by three runs.
The way Arizona Christian starter Tanner Tripp was throwing, that deficit looked daunting. The righthander retired nine of the first 11 Mustangs he faced over the first three frames.
However, in the fourth, the Mustangs started to get to Tripp. Cody Harris (Lakewood, CA) led off the frame with single to center field, advanced to second base on a Joe Riddle (Bakersfield, CA) comebacker, moved to third on a Sam Robison (San Juan Capistrano, CA) base hit to right field, and scored on Chris Talley's (Simi Valley, CA) infield single, slicing the margin to 3-1.
Two innings later, that deficit was erased as the Mustangs completed their comeback and finished off Tripp at the same time. Rapping out four hits and taking advantage of a pair of Firestorm errors, the Mustangs roared in front 4-3, taking a lead they would never relinquish.
An inning-opening error by the Arizona Christian shortstop, which allowed Riddle to reach base, opened the floodgates. Ryan Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) followed with a double down the right field line that moved Riddle to third base. Robison then stepped to the plate and whacked a single to right field, scoring Riddle with the inning's first run and slicing the margin to 3-2.
Moments later, Talley evened things up when his second straight infield single plated Shackelford from third base and when the Arizona Christian pitcher threw the ball away, Robison and Talley moved up an additional 90 feet. Coach Monte Brooks then made a pivotal decision, pinch-hitting Piper (Saugus, CA) for Spencer Toth (Asheville, NC) and the local product came through, lacing a single to right field to score Robison with the go-ahead and what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Work too it from there on his way to pitching history. The senior lefty was his usual self over the final six innings, surrendering just two hits in that span and allowing just two of the Firestrom to reach base. When he recorded the final out in the ninth, capping off a 1-2-3 inning, Work (11-4) became the winningest pitcher in school history with his 29 career wins moving him past previous recordholder Chris Beck (28 wins from 1991-94).
At the plate, the Mustangs' nine-hit attack was led by Robison and Talley, who had two hits apiece and three rbi combined.
With a first-round win under their belts, the Mustangs now turn their attention to a 14th-ranked Concordia club against whom they split six games with during the regular season. The first pitch will be thrown at 11:00am Friday on Reese Field.