- Greg Wille
COMPLETE GAMES: Pratt, Spinn shine as TC turns sharp play, Hill's mistakes into crucial NTJCAC sweep
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
SHUTTING THEM DOWN: Temple College sophomore pitcher Davis Pratt reacts after striking out Hill batter Christian Garcia during the final inning of the Leopards' 11-1, six-inning win over the Rebels in Friday's first game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Pratt (2-0), a Purdue signee, allowed three hits and had three strikeouts to help TC (26-15, 9-11) sweep the four-game series and tie Weatherford for fourth place in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple College’s baseball team enjoyed a good Wednesday, defeating Hill College 6-4 and 7-6 in Hillsboro to sweep an important doubleheader in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference competition.
When the scene shifted to TC’s home ballpark at Danny Scott Sports Complex on a cloudy afternoon, Good Friday became a great one for the revived Leopards.
Temple romped to an 11-1, six-inning victory in the doubleheader opener as Davis Pratt pitched a complete game and the opportunistic Leopards used a slew of well-executed bunts and Rebels defensive mistakes to explode for eight runs in the game-turning third inning.
Zane Spinn and TC continued to apply pressure in the nine-inning finale, producing three multiple-run innings and riding the sharp pitching of Dash Albus, Mason Brandenberger and Hagen Rose to an 8-2 win that gave the Leopards a much-needed sweep of the crucial four-game series.
“That’s huge, especially on Easter weekend. It’s Good Friday. I even told myself before the game, ‘I’m going to give all the glory to God. He’s letting us come out here,’” said Spinn, TC’s sophomore shortstop from Holland who had four hits overall and scored two runs in each game. “It’s just good seeing the ball go our way one time. That’s huge for us. We stay working. We told ourselves, ‘Whether we get in a hole or not, we’re never going to stop our work ethic and how we go about things.’”
Entering Friday, Temple (26-15 overall) found itself tied with Cisco and Hill for fifth place in the NTJCAC, which will send its top four finishers to May’s NJCAA Region V Tournament at Texas Tech in Lubbock. With the vital sweep, head coach Craig McMurtry’s Leopards moved to 9-11 in league play, surged ahead of the Wranglers (8-12) and Rebels (7-13) and pulled into a share of fourth place with Weatherford (9-11), an upcoming opponent on TC’s schedule.
“That’s four big wins for us. You’re sitting there at 5-11, and now we’re 9-11. We’ve still got a huge hill to climb – no pun intended – but that was a big week,” said McMurtry, whose squad has four games next week against rival and defending national champion McLennan. “The guys did a good job and they deserved to win the games. That’s where we need to be right now. We’re at a point now where we have to find a way to take three out of four games and hopefully, possibly sweep.
“These were probably the most complete games we’ve played. The pitching did a good job, the hitters had a good week as far as getting on base and guys coming up with big hits to drive guys in, and defensively we were pretty solid most of the day and most of the week. That’s the whole deal. When you play all facets of the game the way you’re supposed to, then hopefully you do have a chance to win.”
Pratt (2-0) set the tone for Temple’s productive day, allowing only two hits in five shutout innings before he permitted an inconsequential solo home run in the sixth. The sophomore right-hander and Purdue signee said he thinks the complete-game performance was his first since his high school days in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It’s huge. From here on out, we’re just fighting to stay alive,” Pratt said about Temple’s pursuit of a postseason berth. “Winning those first two games at their place was huge, because we know we’re going to come through at our place.”
After Pratt pitched around Cade Sanchez’s two-out double in the first inning, the Leopards dented the scoreboard in their half of the first. Caleb Hill was hit by a Cade Stapleton pitch with one out before Spinn socked a one-hop double off the wall in right field, driving Hill in for a 1-0 TC advantage.
With Pratt shutting out the Rebels (20-19) through three frames, the Leopards erupted for an eight-run third to seize full control, with ample assistance from Hill’s defense.
Temple Wildcats product Bryan Williams drew a leadoff walk, then Travis Chestnut laid down a well-placed bunt. Third baseman Eric Garcia threw too late to get the speedy Chestnut and the ball sailed over the first baseman and far into foul territory, letting Williams score and Chestnut to reach third. Hill then ripped a run-scoring single to center for a 3-0 lead.
After Spinn walked, Chris Morrow angled a sacrifice bunt down the third base line. Stapleton fielded it cleanly but when he turned to throw to third, the ball came out of his hand awkwardly and rolled toward TC’s dugout, scoring Hill for a 4-0 game. Colby Christian followed with a sharp RBI single to left to make it 5-0.
Andre Jackson dropped down yet another bunt and had enough speed to beat it out for a single, and Stapleton’s rushed throw to first was wide and got away, scoring Morrow and Christian for a 7-0 advantage.
HILL TOPPER: Temple College batter Caleb Hill grounds a run-scoring single into right field against Hill reliever Camron Montz during the Leopards' eight-run third inning in Game 1 of Friday's doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Hill had two RBI singles in the third for TC, which went on to post an 11-1, six-inning win before the Leopards seized an 8-2 victory in Game 2 to sweep the Rebels in a key four-game conference series. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Sending 13 batters to the plate in the third, the Leopards pushed the lead to 9-0 as Mathew Armes contributed a run-scoring groundout and Hill chopped his second RBI single of the inning. Williams singled and scored two runs during the outburst.
Spinn said it was encouraging for Temple to use small-ball tactics to its benefit.
“That was great. We’d been struggling with the bunt earlier in the season. We really had trouble laying down sacs (sacrifice bunts), and today we ended up laying down sacs for hits,” he said. “So that’s huge that we can (execute) in that part of the ballgame and just get going with the bunt. That’s something we’ve been looking for, too. If the dude’s playing back and you’ve got some speed, that’s a free hit just sitting there and you’ve just got to put it 15 or 20 feet. That’s a big deal.”
McMurtry said it was rewarding to see the Leopards finally break through in the bunting game and pounce on their opponent’s shaky defense.
“We haven’t really done that this year. We’ve had opportunities to sac guys over or drag bunt and we haven’t gotten the bunt down,” McMurtry said. “So being able to come in today and the wind’s blowing in a little bit, it was probably the first time we’ve taken advantage of some speed guys actually putting the ball in play in good spots where (the defense) had to make good plays to get them out. And they didn’t, so hey, we took advantage of their mistakes and found a way to put pressure on them defensively and it worked out.
“We’ve been there. We’ve had situations where you throw a bunt away and a guy ends up on third base or a run or two comes in and all of a sudden you start pressing a little bit. I think (Hill) had three of those where they misplayed a bunt and opened the door for us. Small ball is huge, especially if you have guys who can run a little bit so (defenders) know they have to get rid of the ball.”
Armed with a 9-0 lead, Pratt issued a leadoff walk in the fourth but responded with a strikeout and a ground-ball double play turned by second baseman Chestnut. He pitched a perfect fifth, then allowed Hayden Blair’s solo homer to right to begin the sixth but quickly retired his final three batters.
“Everything felt good. I normally rely on my changeup a lot, and that felt good, but I was mixing in everything to keep them off-balance and letting my defense work,” Pratt said. “I didn’t have many Ks, because I know that if I put it in the zone somebody’s going to make a play behind me.
“I just had a little tweak in my shoulder that I’ve been trying to work out. It obviously sucked not being here for the beginning of the season,” he added. "But I feel great and I feel like (I’m hitting my) midseason stride and we’re getting ready to make a playoff push. I feel great, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Making only his fifth appearance this season because of a shoulder ailment early in the season, Pratt limited Hill to three hits, struck out three batters and walked two.
“That’s huge. We saw Pratt in the fall and everyone knows what Pratt does. Right before we came out here today, I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got Pratt with us, so you know it’s going to be a good day,’” said Spinn, who made a leaping catch of Eric Garcia's line drive in the second inning of Game 1 on a day when Temple's defense made several stellar plays as well as almost all of the routine ones. “Pratt’s a good guy and it’s good to have him back. It’s easy to play ball with Pratt on the mound.”
Added McMurtry about Pratt, who pitched five innings of one-run ball last Saturday in a 3-2 home win against third-place Ranger: “Pratt was on and gave us a complete game, which was big. He knows what he has to do and he’s a really fierce competitor. He wants the ball and he wants to do well.”
It became a complete game for Pratt thanks to more firepower from Temple’s offense in the sixth. Hill singled to right-center and Spinn walked before Morrow mashed a double down the line in right, driving in both runners to finish the 11-1 victory on the 10-run rule.
The Leopards were steadier and more methodical with how they separated from the Rebels in the nine-inning finale.
Freshman left-hander Albus (2-2) rebounded from a rough outing against Ranger by firing five sharp innings against Hill. He allowed two singles in the first but got a 4-6-3 double play to escape trouble.
The Leopards provided him with a 2-0 lead in the first, and bunts again figured prominently. After lefty Ryan Markwardt issued a leadoff walk to Texas A&M signee Chestnut, the left-handed-hitting Spinn dragged a bunt single to an open space on the right side.
Hogan Heller then laid down a sacrifice bunt along the third base line and the catcher got in the way of Markwardt, whose inaccurate throw sailed past first. Chestnut scored on the play and Spinn went to third before he scored on Simon Larranaga’s RBI groundout for a 2-0 lead.
SWINGING A HOT BAT: Temple College sophomore shortstop Zane Spinn blasts a run-scoring double to right field against Hill pitcher Ryan Markwardt during the second inning on the Leopards' 8-2 win in Friday's second game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Holland graduate Spinn hit a three-run home run Wednesday as TC swept Hill in Hillsboro, then on Friday he totaled four hits and scored twice in each game as the fifth-place Leopards (26-15, 9-11) completed the sweep in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Jackson drew a leadoff walk in the second and later scored to make it 3-0 when Sam Houston State signee Spinn popped a double to the wall in right.
“You have your days as a hitter, but these past few series I’ve been seeing the ball extremely well, and that’s the biggest thing,” said Spinn, who hit a three-run homer at Hill on Wednesday and went 3-for-5 on Friday’s second game. “My takes have gotten better, and when your takes are good, your swings are probably going to be good. I’ve been with (assistant coach Frank) Kellner a lot, just trying to keep (the swing) real short and nice and easy.”
Said McMurtry about Spinn: “Zane's really come on in the last month. He’s squaring some balls up and going the other way, and defensively he does a good job for us. He’s been a nice surprise considering he’s a sophomore but didn’t get to play last year hardly at all because of (NTJCAC Hitter of the Year Seth) Stephenson. Last summer was big for him to get a bunch of at-bats, but he’s really come on lately and jumped from the sixth or seventh spot sometimes to the 2 and 3 and he’s come through. He’s been consistent over the last month.”
Hill didn’t score until the fourth, when Albus allowed a walk and a hit before TC botched a rundown and allowed Jagger Schattle to score from third for a 3-1 game.
After Albus pitched a scoreless fifth to complete his strong outing, Temple padded its lead to 6-1 with a three-run fifth. Spinn lined a leadoff single to center and scored on Larranaga’s one-out single to center. Christian crushed a double to left before Dawson French’s groundout plated Larranaga, and Christian also scored on the play after first baseman Schattle’s errant throw skipped past third.
To begin the sixth McMurtry brought in Brandenberger, the lefty sidearmer who earned saves in both TC wins at Hill two days earlier. He allowed an RBI double to Rilan Quinones in the sixth but answered by pitching a perfect seventh and eighth with two strikeouts.
“Albus gave us five strong innings. His pitch count was up a little bit, considering he hasn’t started in a couple weeks. We got him out of there and Brandenberger did a great job,” McMurtry said. “To come back today and throw three innings and give us a chance a couple more runs was big because we had some breathing room. He did a great job, and then Hagen came in and did a great job.”
The Leopards grabbed two more insurance runs in the eighth. Raithen Malone’s single to right-center drove in French, then pinch hitter Morrow knocked in Malone with a double to left for an 8-2 lead.
“Morrow’s done a good job for us. He came up with the big double in the first game and then he gets another double in the second game,” said McMurtry, whose club played the Hill series without speedy sophomore center fielder and Sam Houston State signee Joseph Redfield after he strained a hamstring against Ranger. “Those (unsung) guys have really stepped up, and hopefully they can keep stepping.”
Rose, a freshman right-hander from Troy, finished off Temple’s sweep by pitching a scoreless ninth, allowing a single and notching a strikeout.
Spinn was impressed by how the Leopards maintained their mental strength throughout the week as they earned their long-awaited first conference series win this season.
“It was huge, because I feel that is something we have done – lost our train of thought, lost our focus,” he said. “The biggest thing is we knew we needed (to win all) four games. We came out here expecting to win four games, so everyone was locked in and determined to get that done.”
For Temple, the next task is a major one: No. 5-ranked McLennan (32-9-1, 17-3), which has won its last seven conference games and leads the NTJCAC by one game over No. 17 Grayson (16-4). Last season, the powerful Highlanders went 6-0 against the Leopards in May – 4-0 in conference and 2-0 in regional tournament action – en route to capturing the Junior College World Series championship in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The Leopards will host head coach Mitch Thompson's Highlanders in a doubleheader at noon next Wednesday before TC travels to MCC's Bosque River Ballpark in Waco for another twinbill at noon next Saturday.
“With McLennan coming in next week, it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” said McMurtry, who was a standout pitcher at McLennan before going on to a major league career. “You’ve got the No. 1 team in the conference and one of the top teams in the nation, so we’re going to have to carry this over to next week and try to do the same thing as far as executing and see what the results are.
“We’ve got 12 more games. You can’t start looking too far ahead, but realistically we’re at nine wins and we’ve got to get to hopefully 14 by the time we go to Vernon (on May 4).”
After Temple achieved its desired results by sweeping Hill, Spinn believes the Leopards have what will be required to battle McLennan and eventually earn a postseason position.
“We’re just keeping our work ethic the same. Every ballgame has its own problems and challenges, and what we’ve been really preaching recently is to take it one out at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time,” Spinn said. “Our work ethic isn’t going to change. We’re looking to win as many ballgames as we can, whether that be a sweep, a split or a 3-1 series. We’re going to battle to the end.
“We talked about how a team can get hot and it’s hard to stop them. That can be us."
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