BASEBALL: Winless final week vs. rival McLennan drops TC to third seed for Region V tourney in Waco
NEXT STOP, POSTSEASON PLAY: Freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson (9) and the Temple College Leopards (37-14) finished in third place in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference with a 20-12 record after being swept by league champion McLennan in a four-game series. Coach Craig McMurtry's TC squad next will compete in a four-team, double-elimination NJCAA Region V tournament that begins Friday at McLennan's Bosque River Ballpark in Waco. The Leopards' opening opponent will be Midland (28-14), the runner-up from the Western Junior College Athletic Conference. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
The Temple College baseball team entered the final week of Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference competition with an opportunity to win the league championship, but that opportunity slipped away as the Leopards were swept by rival McLennan Community College in a four-game series that concluded Saturday as TC lost 4-2 and 5-2 at home.
No. 16-ranked Temple finished the regular season with a 37-14 overall record and a 20-12 mark in the NTJCAC after losing its final five conference games and six of its last nine. Coach Craig McMurtry's Leopards, who led the conference standings for much of the season, were 22-1 at home before losing twice to the Highlanders at Danny Scott Sports Complex.
McLennan (37-16, 25-7) put together consecutive four-game sweeps of Vernon, North Central Texas and Temple to capture the conference championship by three games.
Overtaking Temple for second place in the final standings was Weatherford (36-17, 22-10), which closed NTJCAC action by sweeping last-place North Central and posting victories in 11 of its last 12 league games. The Coyotes finished two games ahead of Temple, which finished one game better than fourth-place Cisco (40-14, 19-13).
By sliding to the NTJCAC's No. 3 seed, Temple will travel back to McLennan's Bosque River Ballpark in Waco to compete in a four-team, double-elimination NJCAA Region V tournament that begins Friday. The field includes top-seeded McLennan, Temple, Western Junior College Athletic Conference No. 2 seed Midland (28-14) and WJCAC No. 4 seed Odessa (20-24).
TC's regional opener will be against Midland on Friday. The Leopards went 2-1 against the Chaparrals in late February in Temple. McLennan will host Odessa on Friday.
The other four-team Region V tournament will be hosted in Big Spring by No. 14 Howard (37-11), whose Hawks won the WJCAC championship with a 20-4 record, two games ahead of Midland. Also in that four-team field are NTJCAC runner-up Weatherford, WJCAC No. 3 seed Clarendon (30-19) and NTJCAC No. 4 seed Cisco.
The winners of the two regional tournaments will clash in a best-of-three Super Regional series May 21-23, to be hosted by the higher-seeded team or the WJCAC representative if both teams have the same seeding.
The Region V champion will earn an automatic berth in the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado. Temple seeks its fourth JUCO World Series trip and its first since 2018. McLennan was the national runner-up in 2015 and placed fifth in Grand Junction two years later.
Temple second-year freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson finished the regular season leading the Leopards with a .404 batting average, a .719 slugging percentage, 72 hits, nine home runs, 13 doubles, eight triples, 45 runs batted in and 50 runs in 47 games. The Tennessee signee and Major League Baseball draft prospect had 28 stolen bases, second on the team to the 31 steals of freshman second baseman Travis Chestnut.
Second-year freshman designated hitter/left fielder Clark Henry (37 RBI) ranked second among starters with a .384 batting average and five homers. Freshman third baseman Ty Tilson ranked second among regulars with 40 RBI and 11 doubles, and freshman center fielder Joseph Redfield had 32 RBI and 13 steals. Chestnut scored 49 tuns and batted .333 with three homers, 25 RBI and a .481 on-base percentage.
Third-year sophomore right-hander Nathan Medrano (8-4), a Houston signee, paced TC starting pitchers with 14 starts, 71 innings, 81 strikeouts, a 2.54 earned-run average and four complete games. Second-year freshman righty Ulises Quiroga, who did not pitch in the McLennan series, went 9-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 53 innings, allowing only 36 hits. The Texas-San Antonio commitment pitched three complete games.
Second-year freshman lefty Dylan Blomquist (Belton) went 4-3 with a 3.53 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 51 innings and threw two complete games, including one in TC's 4-2 home loss to McLennan in Saturday's first game. Also an outfielder for the Leopards, Blomquist batted .301 with 11 RBI, 24 runs and a .440 on-base percentage.