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BRIGHT FUTURE: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson has produced an outstanding season for the No. 12-ranked Leopards (29-7), who lead the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference with a 12-5 record entering Saturday's noon doubleheader against Grayson at Danny Scott Sports Complex. A 5-foot-9, 170-pound Tennessee signee, Stephenson is batting .339 and leads TC with seven home runs, five triples, 19 extra-base hits and 33 runs batted in while stealing 17 bases. He hit three homers and a triple last Saturday as the Leopards swept Cisco. Professional scouts have timed Stephenson at 6.19 seconds in the 60-yard dash, making him the fastest player in the 23-season modern era of TC baseball, according to head coach Craig McMurtry. The Buda Hays graduate is a prospect for Major League Baseball's amateur draft in mid-July. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)




During the 23-season modern history of Temple College's baseball program, the Leopards have had plenty of fast players, including a few whose speed could be aptly described as elite.

TC head coach Craig McMurtry has been there for all 23 seasons and assistant head coach Frank Kellner for the last 18, and both say there's no doubt that one player stands alone when it comes to the unofficial title of “fastest Leopard”: Seth Stephenson.

“They haven't mentioned it to me specifically,” the Leopards' second-year freshman shortstop said during practice Wednesday afternoon, “but I've heard them say it a little bit.”

The Tennessee signee has been timed as fast as 6.19 seconds in the 60-yard dash, making the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Stephenson an intriguing prospect for Major League Baseball's amateur draft July 11-13.

“6.7 (seconds in the 60) is pretty fast, 6.6 is fast and 6.5 or 6.4, that's really fast,” McMurtry said. “When you get down to 6.3 and below, that's like off the scale. Seth's definitely got a different speed than everyone else as far as his flat-out running speed.”

Professional scouts grade players' specific skills using a 20-to-80 scale, and former major league pitcher McMurtry said the numerous scouts who've visited TC this school year to observe Stephenson say he possesses 80 speed.

“He's unique from anybody because of his elite speed,” Kellner said. “If there's another athlete in the state of Texas that can do what he can do, I'd like to see him. And I think that's why the scouts are here, because athletically he's showing something they can't find anywhere. He's checking boxes that other guys can't check.”

While Stephenson's 17 stolen bases (without being caught) and five triples in 33 games this season are indicators of how his top-notch speed impacts games, he's much more than just a guy who runs well. Stephenson leads Temple with 43 hits, 19 extra-base hits, seven home runs and 33 runs batted in, ranks second with a .638 slugging percentage, is third with 34 runs and is tied for third with seven doubles.

That's from a player who weighed 145 pounds when he graduated from Buda Hays in 2019 and didn't hit a home run in high school.

“I don't know how I'm hitting all these home runs,” Stephenson, who turned 20 in January, said with a smile.

Stephenson's wildly productive season has coincided with an outstanding spring for the Leopards, who have a 29-7 overall record and lead the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference at 12-5 entering Saturday's home doubleheader against Grayson at noon at Danny Scott Sports Complex.

Although he might have to decide in a few months between relocating to Knoxville, Tennessee, or signing a pro contract, Stephenson is keeping his focus on helping Temple – ranked No. 12 in NJCAA Division I – win the NTJCAC championship and earn its fourth trip to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“I feel like our team just has a different bond this year than any team I've ever played on. You can ask any of the other guys. It's just different than any other team, the way we get along,” Stephenson said. “This year I feel like everyone's in it together and everyone wants to do the same thing, and that's go to Junction and win it. So that's going to take our team a long way, especially with the talent level we have.”

McMurtry and Kellner said they appreciate not only Stephenson's talent but also his team-first attitude and the positive energy he carries onto the field, particularly this season with pro scouts often attending games to scrutinize his play and assess whether their teams should consider selecting him in July's 20-round draft.

“The biggest thing as far as Seth's personality is that he competes really hard, he's got a high motor, he's always ready to go, bouncing around and obviously he plays hard,” McMurtry said. “He expects a lot out of himself and doesn't settle for mediocrity. He really pushes himself and is kind of hard on himself at times, too.

“As far as maturity, that's probably one of the things he needs to continue to work on. If he isn't successful in a couple of at-bats, just being able to turn the page and get to the next pitch or the next at-bat. But he expects to make every play and expects to get a hit every at-bat.”

Said Kellner: “Seth loves the game. He loves to practice. He gets frustrated like anyone else, but he's got some joy out there when he's playing. Success brings that, of course, but he loves to work and he's all about team. Mentally he's learning to deal with the noise. That can be very difficult. He's under a microscope right now, and there's been some adjustments this year in dealing with that.”

Stephenson produced a career day last Saturday in TC's home doubleheader sweep of Cisco. On a rare day when the wind blew out at the Leopards' ballpark, he slugged three homers and a triple while going 6-for-10 overall with five RBI and seven runs as Temple won 19-9 and 16-6.

“It was definitely the best day hitting in my life. I hit another one that got caught on top of the wall, so it could have been an even better day,” said Stephenson, who has a .339 batting average and a .397 on-base percentage.

Even on a hitter-friendly afternoon when Stephenson bashed three baseballs over the fence, McMurtry said the shortstop's game-changing speed came into play.

“That triple against Cisco, he hit the ball to right field and he was flying around first to second to third,” McMurtry said. “They threw the ball away coming into the infield and had no chance to get him at the plate.”

MORE POP AT THE PLATE: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson, shown tracking a pitch during a March 13 home win over Weatherford, hit six triples but zero home runs in 23 games in the shortened 2020 season. In 33 games played this season for the 12th-ranked Leopards, the Tennessee-signed Stephenson has slugged a team-leading seven homers to go with seven doubles and five triples. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)

"Speed never slumps" is an old baseball adage that certainly fits Stephenson, who shined during Temple's 2020 season that stopped in March after 24 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He batted .318 with six triples (two in his first college game), three doubles and seven RBI, scored 24 runs and stole eight bases.

His level of speed puts the heat on opposing defenders, including on so-called routine ground balls that are anything but routine outs.

“He puts a ton of pressure on the defense. Any time he comes up to bat, it's, 'Hey, good speed at the plate,'” McMurtry said. “When hits a ground ball, even if it's right at somebody, they've got to catch it and get rid of it immediately or it's a base hit.”

Said Stephenson: “You can't teach speed, and it just changes the game because I don't have to hit the ball far or real hard to make an impact. I'll always have a chance to beat out a ground ball or just walk or get hit by a pitch.”

The fact that the solidly built Stephenson also has significant extra-base power puts him in something of a quandary. Baseball's "old school" might say he should concentrate on hitting line drives and grounders and also utilizing bunts to maximize his rare speed, whereas the "new school" would urge him to punish the ball into the gaps and over the fence as much as possible.

“I'm kind of in between both, because when I pop up or get out on a fly ball, somebody's usually mad because I'm so fast that why am I putting the ball in the air?” Stephenson said. “But then when I'm putting it in the gap and hitting it out, they're not so mad. I try to stay out of the air because I know that's just not my game, but I have a natural lift in my swing and I'll run into some balls.”

Besides, Stephenson is a very aggressive hitter who's more inclined to swing away than to try to draw walks. His 25 strikeouts this season are five more than any other Leopard, and he's walked only 10 times.

“He doesn't walk much, that's for sure. He's going up there to hit,” McMurtry said. “I think his maturity level hopefully will get better and he'll be more selective with figuring out which pitches he's more capable of putting in play hard. Right now he swings at some pitches out of the zone at times, but you've got to take the bad with the good.”

Stephenson mans the second spot in TC's batting order. His increasingly dangerous presence as a run-producing hitter has benefited freshman second baseman and speedy leadoff man Travis Chestnut, who's batting .360 and paces the Leopards with 26 steals.

“When Chestnut gets on, Seth's probably going to get some off-speed pitches, which gives Chestnut a chance to steal a little bit more,” McMurtry explained.

Stephenson grew up as a switch-hitter, but he's batted almost exclusively right-handed – his natural side – while playing for Temple. Even though most pitchers are right-handed and batting lefty also would get him a step or two closer to first base, Stephenson said he's put switch-hitting on the proverbial shelf for now “just because I'm feeling good on the right side.”

“I just don't see a need. If I want to pick it up next year, sure,” he said. “I've been switch-hitting for a long time. I've always done it as a feel thing. I feel confident on both sides. Nothing's wrong with anything.”

Kellner, who played Triple-A ball as a switch-hitting infielder, said he won't be surprised if Tennessee or a pro organization that drafts Stephenson wants him to resume hitting from both sides.

Stephenson attributes much of his increased production this season to his offseason work with Alex Simone of Simone Baseball Performance in Austin. Stephenson began to train with Simone after Temple's 2020 season ended prematurely and said he's noticed major gains in various aspects.

“I'd never hit a home run in a real season before, honestly. I think I hit one home run in the fall (of 2019 at TC), and then I hit four or five last summer in a wood bat league in Austin,” Stephenson said. “I'd worked out with Alex Simone and he just really helped develop me. We worked hard all summer – explosive work and everything like that. I came back in the fall and felt a little more pop and I hit a few home runs.”

Stephenson has added approximately 25 pounds since he graduated high school almost two years ago, making him a more effective all-around player with improved power at the plate and, of course, enhancing his already exceptional speed.

“I think it's just natural growth. I've always worked out hard, but I really did hit it harder starting with Christmas break (in 2019). I focused on eating right and getting more calories,” he said. “It's everything, really – arm strength and speed especially. I feel more explosive when I run now. I've always been fast, but I feel I have a little bit more explosiveness to my running.”

Stephenson said he'd been able to run the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds since he was 15. The combination of training with Simone and in TC's strength and conditioning program helped him lower his 60 time to an eye-popping 6.19 this past fall, attracting pro scouts in droves.

“He's gotten a lot stronger. He's that body type that they don't look real big, but they're really strong. He's got strong legs, obviously, to be able to run like that,” McMurtry said. “He's got a strong upper body. He works hard in the weight room. All these guys do, and (assistant) Coach (Nathan) Train really has these guys lifting. It helps a lot for power and recovery.”

Stephenson's defense at shortstop can be inconsistent and he's made a team-high 12 errors, but he possesses a strong throwing arm and his quickness and athleticism help him get to balls that others can't. In TC's March 29 home game against Blinn, he darted behind the mound to field a slow chopper with his bare hand and, on a full sprint, threw the runner out.

Kellner took notice of Stephenson's talent while coaching summer ball early in Stephenson's high school career. Stephenson's team was coached by Chad Miles, who played for Temple's Junior College World Series team in 2010. Stephenson and current Leopards freshman outfielder Andre Jackson also traveled for workouts with Kellner.

“Coach Kellner was really impressed with Stephenson's speed, obviously, and his get-after-it attitude,” McMurtry said. “He said, 'Hey, this kid's the first one on the field when the last out's made when they're hitting and he's always in the game.'”

Stephenson said he loved playing football and also dabbled in basketball and soccer at Hays, but he decided to concentrate on baseball following his sophomore year. He declined an offer from NCAA Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi because “my dream was always to play in the College World Series” and he didn't envision the Islanders competing in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I also knew that Coach Kellner is a great infield coach and I had been told to go work with him for a few years,” he said.

Stephenson committed to play for Temple, but then his life changed just before he was scheduled to report to campus. His father, John Stephenson, died unexpectedly on Aug. 8, 2019, of a heart attack. He was 59.

“He just truly loved watching me play. It was his favorite thing in the world, to come watch me play,” Seth Stephenson said about his father. “He'd always be the one walking around. He didn't sit down the whole game. It was a dream of his to see me go fulfill my dreams, so I'm just going to keep doing that until the day I can't.”

McMurtry and Kellner attended John Stephenson's funeral in Buda, although Seth didn't realize they were there. That made a big impression on the 18-year-old when he found out.

“I didn't know they showed up, but my mom (Melissa Stephenson) saw them. And at that moment we knew I was in the right place, because what coaches would do that for their player when I hadn't even set foot on campus yet?” Seth said. “That was real good character of them.

“I had to come to Temple like five days later, which was hard but it turned me into the player I am because baseball was an outlet for me. It was the only thing I had to do. I didn't really want to talk to anyone here about (my father's passing). I got to come work every day and get my mind off things. That fall was non-stop work. That's what got me really good at the game. They just helped me out and always kept me busy and working. They didn't give me a chance to sit around thinking about it.”

For Stephenson and his family, two special things happened in Venice, Louisiana on May 13, 2020, which would have been his father's 60th birthday.

“I always felt like I didn't really have much closure about it, just coming to Temple so soon. But we went to Louisiana on his birthday to spread his ashes at his favorite place in the world to fish for redfish,” Seth said. “The first time I ever talked to Coach (Tony) Vitello at Tennessee was on my dad's birthday in Louisiana, so we just knew that was the spot for me. That was a closure weekend for our whole family.”

Stephenson credited his mother, who regularly attends TC's home games, for helping him handle not only the death of his dad but also the demands of playing college baseball and the attention he's receiving as an NCAA Division I signee and an emerging pro prospect.

“My mom's just so faithful. She's a person I'd like to be like when I'm older. She's full of joy and happiness,” Seth said. “She constantly teaches me the word of God, whether I want to hear it or not. I'm very thankful for her. We're really close.”

Said Kellner: “Personally, I've been probably more protective of him coming in knowing that and trying to meet some of those psychological needs that he has. But he's got a tremendous mother and a brother and some close friends around him that really rallied the wagons and helped him get through.”

Programs such as Houston and Louisiana-Lafayette recruited Stephenson after his stellar-but-shortened 2020 season, but the call he'd been waiting on came last May 13 from Tennessee's Vitello, whose Volunteers compete in the Southeastern Conference, college baseball's premier league. And when Vitello called him with a scholarship offer last July 13, Stephenson committed to Tennessee the same day. He made it official by signing in November.

“Tennessee was the biggest school that came and gave me a chance, and it was always my dream to play in a conference like that, so I took it,” said Stephenson, who hasn't yet been able to visit the Vols' Knoxville campus because of COVID-19 restrictions. “When I was a young kid, a pastor said he had a dream that I was playing middle infield for UT, and we always thought it was UT of Austin. But it worked out cool because Tennessee is UT too, so I guess that's what he meant.”

However, there is a distinct possibility that Stephenson might never suit up for the Volunteers, who currently are ranked fifth in the nation. If he's selected high enough in July's MLB draft and offered a worthwhile signing bonus, Stephenson could choose to forgo the remainder of his college eligibility and enter the pro baseball ranks at 20½ years old.

McMurtry, the Troy product who signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1980 after pitching two junior college seasons at McLennan, said Stephenson could have a difficult decision to make a few months from now.

“The big thing with any of these guys who have these opportunities is it's a family decision on what they feel like is their best opportunity, whether it's financially or getting into a minor league system,” McMurtry said. “There's factors where sometimes it's not just how much (money) you're going to get. To me, if somebody gets an opportunity to go play pro ball and the money they're offered is life-changing money, then sometimes it's tough to turn that down.

“To be honest, it's kind of a crapshoot on what the best scenario is. It's really a family decision on what they think is best. My advice is to do what's best for you. If it's going to Tennessee and playing, then that's what you do. If you feel like, 'Hey, I want to get into pro ball and start my career and get my name in the organization,' then that's what you do.”

With pro scouts descending on TC games with stopwatches and video cameras throughout this school year, Stephenson certainly has felt and had to adjust to the extra attention on him. Considering the highlight-filled season that the leading speed demon of the Leopards' modern era is producing, Stephenson is handling it extremely well.

“I try to ignore it,” he said. “At first I let it get to me. But my dream is to play major league baseball, so I'm getting used to it."

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HARD-EARNED VICTORY: Harker Heights senior right-hander Austin Mitchell recorded eight strikeouts while pitching 6 2/3 innings in the Knights' 7-3 win over Temple in Tuesday night's District 12-6A game at Hallford Field. Mitchell (3-1) scattered six hits, walked four batters and hit two. The third-place Wildcats (15-9, 5-4) led 2-0 after four innings, but the second-place Knights (14-10-1, 7-2) used walks, hit batters and four Temple errors to erupt for seven runs in the sixth. Mitchell outdueled Temple senior righty Aaron Wagaman (4-4), who had seven strikeouts and allowed four hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Wildcats play at third-place Killeen Ellison at 7 p.m. Friday and at league leader Belton at 1 p.m. Saturday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)




The Temple Wildcats have played a slew of ultra-close, pitchers-duel games during the course of the District 12-6A baseball season.

Some of those nail-biters have gone their way, with home victories of 2-0 against rival Belton – the Tigers' only league defeat – and 1-0 against Killeen. And some have not, including 1-0 road losses at Harker Heights and Copperas Cove (eight innings) and last Friday's 4-3, nine-inning setback at Bryan.

Striving to snap a two-game losing streak, third-place Temple found itself competing in yet another low-scoring, who-will-blink-first battle against second-place Harker Heights on Tuesday night in front of a lively crowd at Hallford Field.

But even though the Wildcats grabbed a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning and also scored the game's final run, a disastrous top of the sixth proved to be too much for pitcher Aaron Wagaman and Temple to overcome.

Harker Heights took full advantage of a series of walks, hit batters and Temple errors to explode for all of its runs during the game-changing sixth, and pitcher Austin Mitchell's 6 2/3 strong innings helped the Knights stave off the Wildcats and earn a 7-3 comeback win.

After sharing the 12-6A lead with Belton and Heights at 5-1 entering last week, Temple (15-9) now finds itself tied for third place with Copperas Cove and Killeen Ellison at 5-4 following the Wildcats' third consecutive gut-wrenching loss.

“These are way tougher,” said senior right-hander Wagaman (4-4), who's absorbed defeats in his last two starts despite shutting out Cove through seven innings and blanking Heights through five. “The extra-inning games, you want to win them because you're going the extra mile. But then again, getting blown out at home is not a good feeling.”

Wagaman and Temple appeared to be in good shape as they entered the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead, but the Knights (14-10-1 overall, 7-2 district) began their uprising with a single, a walk and an error. They didn't stop until they had forced Wagaman off the mound, sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs, aided largely by four Wildcat errors and three consecutive runs brought in by bases-loaded walks or hit batters.

“Walks. You put guys on base late in the game like that, the momentum starts to change there. In that situation, you've got to come out and get three outs and get back in the dugout,” Temple third-year head coach Dallas Robertson said. “You can't let a team hang around and you can't give them free bases. We've been playing great defense and pitching well all year long, so it is disappointing right there, just putting them on and not making them hit their way on. That's our philosophy and what we believe in, but that's what got that inning going.”

Temple senior right-hander Aaron Wagaman delivers a pitch to Harker Heights junior leadoff batter Easton Culp during the first inning of the host Wildcats' 7-3 loss to the Knights in Tuesday evening's District 12-6A game at Hallford Field. Wagaman walked Culp before escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first, but second-place Heights overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring all seven of its runs in the top of the sixth en route to handing third-place Temple its third straight defeat. Wagaman pitched 5 1/3 innings and struck out seven. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)

Harker Heights eighth-year head coach Randy Culp said his team, like Temple, has grown accustomed to performing the tightrope act. All six of the Knights' previous 12-6A wins were decided by one or two runs, including a 1-0 decision against visiting Temple on March 19.

“We've been winning a lot of one-run ballgames, which is fine, but it sure does make you nervous,” said Culp, whose squad rebounded from last Friday's 3-1 home loss to Ellison. “I know (Temple) kind of imploded with their pitching (in the sixth) and I hate that for them, but when it's a game like we've had and it's a pressure situation, somebody's going to blink or crack, and I'm just glad it wasn't us tonight.

“Temple's played a lot of tight games like that, and that's kind of our district this year. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. We've got to keep winning those tight ones.”

When Mitchell (3-1) recorded the final out in the fifth on a diving catch by center fielder Jacob Bermea, he and the Knights trailed 2-0. By the time he threw his next pitch, he owned a 7-2 lead thanks to Heights' sudden seven-run barrage in the sixth.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound right-hander almost threw a complete game but reached the 110-pitch limit while striking out Wagaman with the bases loaded for the second out in the seventh. Junior shortstop Easton Culp then relieved him and got Temple senior power hitter Isaiah Fach to hit a ground ball to third base for the game-ending force out.

“It took everything. It was a hard game, because if you leave something up, they're going to hit the ball. They're a good team,” said Mitchell, who permitted six hits, struck out eight batters, walked four and hit two. “I just had to have my catcher (junior Tanner Wells) help me out.”

Said Randy Culp about Mitchell: “Man, he's a bulldog. The performance he had tonight, he's been doing that all year. He's a gutsy guy and works really, really hard. He's one of our seniors that is playing. We only have a couple in the lineup. He works fast and tonight he relied on our defense a little bit more. He's usually a 10-strikeout guy.”

Temple senior catcher Bryan Williams, also an outstanding starting pitcher with multiple district shutouts, suffered an ankle injury near the backstop while chasing Jett Millsap's foul popup three batters into the sixth. In obvious pain, Williams continued to catch until Terry Skaggs replaced him one batter into the seventh.

“He rolled his ankle and we knew we had to get ice on it pretty quick,” Robertson said about Williams, who pitched a complete game in Temple's 1-0 loss at Heights and two more in the Wildcats' 2-0 win over Belton and a 1-0 victory over Killeen.

Wagaman might as well have been named Houdini after he loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but prevented Heights from scoring. He walked Easton Culp, then fielded a Wells bunt but slipped and threw too late to second before Bryce Haws' perfect bunt along the third base line went for a hit.

Wagaman struck out Mitchell with a sharp curveball in the dirt, then sophomore third baseman Naeten Mitchell fielded Millsap's grounder and threw home to catcher Williams for the force out before Williams fired to first to complete the key 5-2-3 double play.

“I'm always comfortable on the mound with a defense like ours,” Wagaman said. “I think we're one of the best in the district.”

From the second through fourth innings, Wagaman struck out two Knights in each frame while allowing only one hit, a two-out double by Wells in the third.

MITCHELL VS. MITCHELL: Temple sophomore Naeten Mitchell puts down a successful sacrifice bunt against Harker Heights senior pitcher Austin Mitchell during the third inning of the host Wildcats' 7-3 loss to the Knights in District 12-6A action Tuesday night at Hallford Field. Naeten Mitchell later hit a run-scoring double during Temple's two-run fourth inning and was hit by a pitch and scored the Wildcats' final run in the seventh. Austin Mitchell compiled eight strikeouts while pitching 6 2/3 innings. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)

Temple's first serious threat against Austin Mitchell came in the third, when Chance Guillen ripped a leadoff single to center and moved to second on Naeten Mitchell's sacrifice bunt. No. 9 batter Kobe Smith then walked to give the Wildcats two runners aboard with one out, but Austin Mitchell struck out Johnny Donoso with a curve in the dirt and retired Issac Ramos on a groundout.

Temple's offense finally broke through in the fourth. Cleanup batter Wagaman lined a one-out single to left and courtesy runner Dylan Hinkle took second on a balk before Fach struck out on a curve. Austin Mitchell threw a wild pitch that sent Hinkle to third, then walked Xavier Padilla and uncorked another wild pitch into the dirt, allowing Hinkle to sprint home and narrowly beat the tag for a 1-0 Wildcats advantage.

After Guillen was hit by a pitch, Naeten Mitchell hit a sharp grounder that went over the bag at third and kicked up chalk for a double, driving in Padilla to extend Temple's lead to 2-0.

“We've had these tight games, these one-run games, and you've just got to find a way to get a hit there with runners in scoring position,” Robertson said. “We didn't do that up until the fourth with the double. That was the hit we hadn't had in a while with runners in scoring position.”

Heights responded with a threat in the fifth, as Michael Saiz led off with a single to right and Eric Moore II walked. Easton Culp then dropped down a sacrifice bunt and initially was ruled safe at first after second baseman Ramos, covering first on the play, had to jump to catch Wagaman's high throw before landing on the bag. However, Temple vociferously argued the call, and the two umpires conferred with each other and reversed the call to Culp being out, much to the chagrin of the Knights and their fans.

Heights still had two runners in scoring position with one out, but Saiz got trapped in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out before Wagaman escaped when Wells flew out to right.

After Austin Mitchell worked around a one-out Ramos single in the Temple fifth, the Knights completely turned the tables on Wagaman and the suddenly self-destructive Wildcats.

Haws popped a leadoff single in the sixth, then Austin Mitchell walked and Naeten Mitchell's low throw to first on Millsap's grounder went for an error that loaded the bases with no outs. After Bermea's flyout to center was too shallow to bring in a run, the play that haunted Temple occurred.

Axel Rios chopped a hard grounder that Mitchell fielded a few steps behind the bag at third, with his momentum carrying him away from home plate. Instead of scooting over to step on third for a sure force out, Mitchell made a hurried throw home in an attempt to force out Haws and preserve Wagaman's shutout. But Mitchell's off-balance throw sailed well over the head of catcher Williams, bringing in Heights' first run for a 2-1 game and keeping the bases loaded with one out.

“Not getting an out on a ground ball, that right there fed it,” Robertson said of the Knights' huge breakthrough in the sixth. “He was trying to throw it home to save that run, but we just need to get an out in that situation. You get that out right there, it's (Temple leading) 2-1 with two outs and a different story. Outs always kill rallies.”

The Wildcats then lost the lead when Wagaman walked Saiz to force in the tying run, and Heights seized its first lead at 3-2 when his pitch hit Moore, prompting Robertson to relieve Wagaman with Padilla.

“Walks. That definitely led to that inning,” Wagaman said.

Said Robertson: “I thought Wagaman was good all the way up until that point. Now, he did (have to overcome trouble) that first inning, but I've seen him waver in the first inning before. He had it going good there in the middle. But especially when you get the runs that you need, you need to come out and put a stamp on the game right there.”

Padilla hit Culp's backside with a pitch to make it 4-2. Wells hit a sacrifice fly to right for a 5-2 game, and the throw back to the infield veered off line. Williams tracked it down and tried to throw Moore out at third, but his throw skipped away just far enough for the speedy Moore to race home to make it 6-2. Haws then ripped a shot that left fielder Smith was unable to catch, with Temple's fourth error of the inning allowing Heights to score its seventh and final run.

“We're just having too many free innings or long innings, and it all starts on the mound,” Wagaman said. “I think we did fine at the plate. We did way better than last time we played them, when we only had one hit (against Haws)."

Trailing 7-2, Temple made one final push in the bottom of the seventh. Naeten Mitchell led off by getting hit by an Austin Mitchell pitch, then with one out Donoso singled, Ramos walked and pinch hitter David Rios hit an infield single that scored Mitchell to make it 7-3.

Wagaman represented the tying run as he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, but Austin Mitchell delivered three of his best curveballs of the night to strike him out.

“That last one I struck out on," Wagaman said, "that was a nice curveball.”

Added Robertson: “Mitchell has pretty good velocity and pretty good control of the curveball. Any time you do both of those, it's difficult (for the offense). You throw a good curveball, your fastball looks faster. He did a very good job tonight.”

Heights then was required to replace Mitchell on the mound because he reached the 110-pitch limit against Wagaman. Randy Culp summoned his son Easton from shortstop to face Fach, the hulking first baseman who pitched a scoreless seventh and came up with the potential to tie the game with a grand slam. But Fach's grounder to third turned into a routine force out that sealed the Knights' comeback win.

“That's one thing I'm real proud of, is that we're pitching well and playing really sound defense,” said Randy Culp, whose Knights last reached the Class 6A state playoffs in 2018. “And tonight we hit a little bit better. We've been struggling hitting.

“We're one game back of Belton and we (host) Belton on Friday night, and we've got a three-game week, so anything can happen.”

The Knights will aim to avenge their 8-0 road loss against the district-leading Tigers.

PLAY BALL: The Temple (right) and Harker Heights baseball teams and the umpires stand for the national anthem before Tuesday evening's District 12-6A game at Hallford Field. The visiting Knights came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 7-3 and sweep the squads' season series 2-0. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)

Meanwhile, a once-surging Temple team that shared the district lead early last week now is battling to make sure it can earn one of 12-6A's four playoff berths. The Wildcats have five league games remaining, beginning at fellow third-place squad Ellison on Friday night before they shoot for a season sweep of Belton on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Field.

“It all starts with work ethic, and we're a senior-led group,” Wagaman said. “Tomorrow's going to be a big day for us. We need to grind it out. We're here in the morning in the weight room and after school for practice. It needs to be one of the best practices we've ever had.”

"They're resilient," Robertson said. "They're going to be ready to work tomorrow.”



Harker Heights 7, Temple 3

Heights 000 007 0 – 7 4 1

Temple 000 200 1 – 3 6 4

HH: Austin Mitchell, Easton Culp (7) and Tanner Wells. T: Aaron Wagaman, Xavier Padilla (6), Isaiah Fach (7) and Bryan Williams, Terry Skaggs (7). W – Mitchell (3-1). L – Wagaman (4-4). Sv – Culp (3). 2B – HH: Wells; T: Naeten Mitchell.

Highlights – HH: A. Mitchell eight strikeouts, six hits allowed in 6 2/3 innings; Bryce Haws 2-for-4, run; Culp, Eric Moore II, Axel Rios, Michael Saiz, Wells one run batted in each; T: Wagaman seven strikeouts, four hits allowed in 5 1/3 innings; N. Mitchell RBI double, run.

Records – Harker Heights 14-10-1 overall, 7-2 in District 12-6A; Temple 15-9, 5-4.

Notes – Harker Heights wins season series 2-0; Temple plays at Killeen Ellison at 7 p.m. Friday and at Belton at 1 p.m. Saturday; Harker Heights hosts Belton at 7 p.m. Friday and plays at Killeen Shoemaker on Saturday.

#Temple #TempleWildcats #TempleBaseball #TempleWildcats #HarkerHeights #HarkerHeightsKnights #TXHSbaseball #TempleBeltonSports

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SLUGGING SATURDAY: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson hit three home runs Saturday as the Leopards defeated Cisco 19-9 and 16-6 in two six-inning, run-rule games at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The Tennessee signee extended his team-leading total to seven homers as No. 15-ranked TC improved to 29-6 overall and 12-4 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, tied for first place with rival McLennan. Cole Payne hit two of the Leopards' eight homers, and Travis Chestnut, Sammy Diaz and Clark Henry each went deep once. Temple produced 29 hits overall, 15 for extra bases. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)


staff report

As Temple College's baseball team has played against conference opponent Cisco through the years, TC head coach Craig McMurtry has grown accustomed to the traditional wind patterns. The breeze usually blows out at Cisco and promotes high-scoring games, whereas the wind typically blows in at the Leopards' pitcher-friendly Danny Scott Sports Complex and leads to lower-scoring games.

This week, however, the script got flipped when it came to the wind, which blew hard in at Cisco on Wednesday, then blew hard out at Temple on Saturday.

“It was exactly the opposite,” McMurtry said after his club went 3-1 in the four-game series, including a 4-1 win and a 5-4 loss at Cisco. “I was concerned today, because Cisco is used to hitting with the wind blowing out at their place.”

And the visiting Wranglers did produce a good amount of offense, recording 19 hits and 15 runs in Saturday afternoon's doubleheader. That said, it wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with the Leopards, who took advantage of the atypical conditions to rack up 29 hits and 35 runs, including eight home runs.

Seth Stephenson hit three homers, Cole Payne homered in each game and Clark Henry delivered walk-off hits in both games as Temple clobbered Cisco's pitching staff to win 19-9 and 16-6 in a pair of six-inning, run-rule games.

“We swung the bats and our guys squared up a lot of balls,” said McMurtry, whose team scored at least one run and 32 total in its first nine innings Saturday as TC improved its home record to 16-1. “It was a tough day to pitch. Outfielders were playing up against the wall.”

The Leopards, ranked No. 15 in the NJCAA Division I national poll, improved to 29-6 overall and 12-4 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, pushing them into a tie for first place with rival McLennan halfway through the 32-game league schedule.

“We could be 14-2 in conference, but it is what it is,” said McMurtry, whose squad is 12-2 in NTJCAC games since it started with two losses at Weatherford. “If somebody had said, 'You're going to be 12-4 in conference,' we'd have taken that in a heartbeat.”

Temple sophomore right-handed pitcher Ulises Quiroga entered Saturday in dominant form, with a 7-0 record, a 0.98 earned-run average and 57 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. Dealing with hitter-friendly conditions in the doubleheader's scheduled seven-inning opener, Quiroga wasn't able to duplicate his previous success, allowing eight hits and nine runs in 4 2/3 innings, striking out seven batters and walking four.

“He got away from his fastball, and Cisco started sitting on breaking balls,” McMurtry said about Quiroga (8-0), who still hung in long enough to record yet another win.

TC led 7-3 after three innings against Sam Tollin (1-1) and used a five-run outburst to go ahead 12-4 after four, then the Wranglers (25-11, 10-10) battled back with a five-run fifth to make it 12-9 and take Quiroga out of the game.

Sophomore lefty reliever Diego Fernandez got the final out in the fifth to escape a jam, then the Leopards went off for another five-run inning in their half of the fifth for a commanding 17-9 lead. Fernandez pitched a scoreless sixth before Henry's two-run homer in the sixth completed Temple's run-rule victory.

Stephenson (3-for-5, triple, three runs batted in), Payne and sophomore catcher Sammy Diaz also hit home runs for TC, and Henry and Payne drove in four runs each.

The series finale was scheduled for nine innings, but again the Leopards needed only six to grab another 10-run win. They scored one run in the first inning and then ignited for eight in the second against Allen Smith (2-2) to build a 9-0 advantage that grew to 13-2 after Temple's four-run third.

Tennessee-signed freshman shortstop Stephenson hit two solo homers, pushing his team-best total to seven. Payne and Travis Chestnut (four RBI) also homered for TC. Joseph Redfield hit two doubles, McNeese State-signed catcher Andruw Gonzales went 2-for-3 with two RBI and Henry and Belton graduate Dylan Blomquist both went 2-for-4.

The Leopards carried a 13-6 lead into the bottom of the sixth and then added three runs, capped by Henry's RBI single that gave the freshman slugger two walk-off hits on the day in Temple's pair of run-rule victories.

The primary beneficiary of TC's offensive bonanza was freshman righty starter Kolby Wilson (2-0), who was relieved by Fernandez in the fourth.

Overall in the doubleheader, Stephenson was 6-for-10 with three homers, five RBI and seven runs, Payne went 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBI and Henry was 4-for-7 with six RBI and six runs. Also, freshman third baseman Ty Tilson went 4-for-7 with a triple, three RBI and four runs.

The Leopards will begin the second half of NTJCAC competition with a four-game series against Grayson (22-13, 10-10), starting with Wednesday's noon doubleheader in Denison. TC will host the Vikings in a doubleheader at noon next Saturday at Danny Scott Sports Complex.


Northern Texas Junior College

Athletic Conference


No. 15 Temple College 19,

Cisco 9 (6)

Cisco 003 150 – 9 8 4

Temple 214 552 – 19 14 2

C: Sam Tollin, Michael Barta (3), Luke Douthitt (5), Tyler Grodell (5), Jacob Garza (5) and Rhett Trlicek. TC: Ulises Quiroga, Diego Fernandez (5) and Sammy Diaz. W – Quiroga (8-0). L – Tollin (1-1). Sv – Fernandez (1). HR – C: Colton Moore (5); TC: Seth Stephenson (5), Clark Henry (4), Cole Payne (2), Diaz (1). 3B – C: Roberto Gonzalez; TC: Stephenson, Ty Tilson. 2B – C: Moore; TC: Travis Chestnut.

Highlights – TC: Stephenson 3-for-5, three runs batted in; Henry 2-for-3, four RBI, game-ending two-run home run; Payne 2-for-3, four RBI; Quiroga seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.


No. 15 Temple College 16,

Cisco 6 (6)

Cisco 002 310 – 6 11 2

Temple 184 003 – 16 15 2

C: Allen Smith, Steven Fink (3), Seth Higdon (6) and August Ramirez. TC: Kolby Wilson, Diego Fernandez (4), Jace Walker (5), Mason Brandenberger (5) and Andruw Gonzales. W – Wilson (2-0). L – Smith (2-2). HR – TC: Seth Stephenson 2 (7), Travis Chestnut (2), Cole Payne (3). 2B – C: Roberto Gonzalez, Ryan Magdic, Colton Moore; TC: Joseph Redfield 2, Chestnut, Gonzales.

Highlights – TC: Chestnut four RBI; Stephenson two solo home runs; Gonzales 2-for-3, two RBI; Clark Henry 2-for-4, game-ending RBI single; Dylan Blomquist 2-for-4.

Records – Temple 29-6 overall, 12-4 in NTJCAC; Cisco 25-11, 10-10.

Notes – Temple sweeps NTJCAC doubleheader, wins four-game series 3-1; TC begins four-game series vs. Grayson (22-13, 10-10) with a doubleheader at noon Wednesday in Denison, hosts Grayson in doubleheader at noon next Saturday.

#TempleCollege #TempleCollegeLeopards #TempleCollegeBaseball #TC #TCLeopards #TCbaseball #NTJCAC #NTJCACbaseball #JUCObaseball #Cisco #TempleBeltonSports

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