They'd hooked the biggest fish in the lake.
Reeled it up near the side of the boat.
Grabbed the net. Reached for the gaff. . . .
Oops. Make that committed a gaffe.
The Master's College defense collapsed in the seventh inning, allowing top-seeded Azusa Pacific to score five unearned runs and steal a 7-5 victory in the first round of the NAIA District 3 playoffs at Azusa on Thursday.
The Master's, which blew a 5-0 lead, will face Southern California College in an elimination game at 9:30 a.m. today at Azusa. Southern California lost to Pt. Loma Nazarene, 14-2, in the other first-round game. If the Mustangs win, they will play the loser of today's Pt. Loma-Azusa Pacific game at about 3:30.
For The Master's, the loss goes down as the big one that got away. The Mustangs (28-21) committed three errors in the seventh as Azusa Pacific (34-7-1) scrambled back against hard-luck right-hander Chris Beck.
"We gave 'em the ballgame," The Master's Coach Chris Harrison said. "A routine ground ball to second and we boot it. A routine fly ball to center is dropped. . . ."
There was all that and more in the seventh, which began with The Master's holding a 5-2 lead. What's more, Beck (9-4) retired the first two batters before issuing a walk. Cleanup hitter Jeff Crockett then sent a tame-looking grounder to second baseman Joe Pence, who booted it.
To compound matters, Pence retrieved the ball and fired wide to first, allowing the runners to move to second and third. Pedro Carranza, who earlier had slammed a towering two-run homer, seemingly accounted for the third out when he lifted a fly ball to shallow right-center.
Trouble was, center fielder Kevin Claytor took a step back and charged late to the ball, then collided with right fielder Kenya Hunt. Claytor was still in position to make the catch with a shoe-top swipe, but Hunt knocked the ball out of Claytor's glove as two runs scored.
A walk and an infield chopper then loaded the bases for catcher Michael Jordan, who doubled home three runs. With The Master's down, 7-5, Harrison then removed Beck. "I'm not blaming them," Beck said of his teammates. "I made a good pitch on Crockett. Nine time out of 10, (Pence) makes that play."
Left fielder Tony MacCaughtry gave The Master's a 5-0 lead in the fourth when he belted a three-run homer to left. Shortstop Darin Brebes had a solo home run in the second for The Master's.