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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | NAIA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Master's Figures to Play an Ace

Brooks plays it close to vest but Higgins probably will start opener.

May 26, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The team's mascot is a Mustang. Its workhorse is Josh Higgins.

Higgins, a 6-foot-5 junior right-hander for The Master's College, likely will start today when the Mustangs (35-13) play Birmingham-Southern (46-18) in the opening round of the NAIA College World Series at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho.

Coach Monte Brooks, who in his fourth season guided Master's to its first World Series appearance, routinely avoids announcing his choice for a starting pitcher before a game.

But who better than Higgins?

Higgins (13-4), nearing the end of his third season at Master's, already has established a school single-season record for victories, as well as innings with 135 1/3 and strikeouts with 136.

Higgins pitched a three-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 3-2 victory last week over Albertson College in the opener of section finals, his eighth complete game of the season.

If Higgins falters, senior right-hander Mike Ploharz (11-1), reinstated by Brooks last week after serving a one-week suspension for disciplinary problems, is capable.

Higgins and Ploharz have pitched 257 of the staff's 376 2/3 innings.

"Our pitching has been very good, particularly the two starters," Brooks said. "But we've had other guys who have stepped up in times of need and come through."

Most notable is right-hander Kurt Fillmore, who has been summoned from center field for three relief appearances during postseason. Fillmore is 1-1 with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Catcher Mike Wertz leads Master's with a .417 batting average, 73 hits, 17 doubles, 13 home runs and 61 runs batted in.

Despite losing two of three to Albertson, Master's earned one of two at-large berths for the 10-team double-elimination tournament that runs through June 2. A victory over Birmingham-Southern and Master's will advance to a second-round game Monday.

Birmingham-Southern, which swept two games against Lindsey Wilson in the section finals, spent part of the season ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BASEBALL MATCHUP

* WHO: The Master's College (35-13)

vs. Birmingham-Southern (46-18)

* WHAT: NAIA College World Series

* WHEN: Today (first round)

* WHERE: Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho.

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