FROM BLOWOUT TO BARNBURNER: TC rallies from 6-0 deficit, but McLennan holds on for 8-7 Region V win
LONG GONE: Temple College freshman second baseman Travis Chestnut follows the flight of his two-run home run off of McLennan pitcher Brady Rose in the bottom of the sixth inning in Saturday afternoon's NJCAA Region V tournament game at MCC's Bosque River Ballpark in Waco. Rose (8-1) led 6-0 and hadn't allowed a hit through five innings before Chestnut's blast. The Leopards charged back and got within one run twice, but the 15th-ranked Highlanders held on for an 8-7 victory. TC (38-15) plays an elimination game against Midland (29-15) at 6 p.m. Sunday in a game that was moved to Abilene Christian University because of inclement weather and wet field conditions in Waco. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
WACO – The victor of Saturday's winners-bracket showdown between rivals Temple College and McLennan Community College was going to gain a big leg up in the four-team, double-elimination NJCAA Region V baseball tournament at Bosque River Ballpark.
And for a long time on a warm, sunny afternoon, all indications pointed to that team being MCC's Highlanders, who clinched the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference championship last week at home by sweeping TC's Leopards.
McLennan's aggressive lineup jumped on Temple pitcher Ulises Quiroga for six runs in the first four innings, and the Leopards didn't produce a hit against Highlanders lefty Brady Rose through five innings.
But the game lasts nine innings, and TC has a team that's nothing if not competitive and determined.
Travis Chestnut's two-run home run broke up Rose's no-hit bid in the bottom of the sixth and sparked the resilient Leopards as they charged back to score seven runs in the final four innings, but McLennan pinch hitter Benjamin Rosengard delivered an important homer in the ninth before the 15th-ranked Highlanders turned away Temple's final threat to secure an entertaining 8-7 win.
“We could have stinkin' laid down. I mean, that's the big thing. We could have just laid down and said, 'Oh, we're going to get beat,' but they didn't do that. Guys really stepped up,” Temple head coach Craig McMurtry said. “We got behind the 8-ball. Obviously all you ask out of guys is to compete. Hey, just compete and keep playing, and they did that. We competed really hard.
“It's frustrating and it's disappointing when you don't get rewarded for that, but that's part of it. We were able to get back in it and get within a run. They did what we asked of them as far as coming back and giving themselves an opportunity, but we just came up a run short. That's baseball.”
Temple (38-15) defeated Midland 5-3 in a closely contested first-round game Friday, and the Leopards must beat the Chaparrals (29-15) – who eliminated Clarendon 8-4 in Saturday's first game – again on Sunday to keep their strong season alive. That elimination game was scheduled for 10 a.m. at McLennan, but because of rain and wet field conditions it was moved to 6 p.m. at Abilene Christian University.
The Temple-Midland survivor will play McLennan (39-16) at 10 a.m. Monday at ACU in the championship round, needing to beat the unblemished Highlanders in order to force a second title game against MCC at 1 p.m. Monday.
McLennan needs one more win to advance to and host a best-of-three Super Regional series next weekend against the winner of the other four-team Region V tournament, which is being played at Howard in Big Spring. No. 10-ranked Howard, champion of the Western Junior College Athletic Conference, went 0-2 in its home ballpark and was eliminated. That regional also includes No. 2 seed Weatherford and No. 4 seed Cisco from the NTJCAC and WJCAC No. 3 seed Odessa.
The Region V champion will earn an automatic berth in the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado, where Temple last visited in 2018 and McLennan in 2017.
Only because his team narrowly prevailed against Temple was McLennan head coach Mitch Thompson able to find some humor afterward.
“That was just a walk in the park,” a relieved Thompson said jokingly. “Temple kind of cracked the door for us defensively and we ran through it, and then we kind of cracked the door for them a little bit and they ran through it right back. It came down to a deal there at the end of the game where it was very tight, 7-6 going into the ninth inning. It was crunch time.
“(Temple had) first and second with nobody out (in the ninth) and it's, 'Here we go,'” he added with a chuckle. “It was just one of those games . . . a great game. The thing I told our guys is, 'Hey, we're going to need every guy. Every guy is going to have a moment at some point in time, and are you ready to step up and be a man and take it head-on?' We had several guys do that today, so it was a good day.”
Although the Leopards scored seven of the game's final nine runs and made the Highlanders use five pitchers, McLennan lived to tell about it as it moved to 5-0 against TC this season and remained in the regional tournament's driver's seat with a 2-0 start.
“If you get through it, it's one of those things where you know you had to keep your calm and overcome it,” Thompson said. “We were up 6-0, but we didn't take our foot off the gas. Temple just made pitches and got us out, and they got back in the game. It was a 27-out game and thankfully it wasn't 28.”
RIVALRY CLASH: Temple College freshman right-hander Ulises Quiroga delivers a fifth-inning pitch to McLennan batter Izzy Lopez and TC catcher Sammy Diaz during the host Highlanders' 8-7 win over the Leopards on Saturday afternoon at Bosque River Ballpark in Waco. Quiroga (9-2) allowed six runs in the first four innings but responded with a scoreless fifth and sixth, giving Temple an opportunity to get back into contention with a big comeback. The Leopards (38-15) scored seven runs in the final four innings but came up one run short and slipped to 0-5 against the No. 15-ranked Highlanders this season. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Second-year freshman right-hander Quiroga had an outstanding regular season for Temple, going 9-1 with a 2.72 earned-run average ad 74 strikeouts in 53 innings. The Leopards chose not to pitch him in last week's series against McLennan, but the Highlanders offense looked comfortable against Quiroga from the start.
Miguel Santos and Mason Greer hit sharp singles in the top of the first before another one by Dominic Tamez to right-center produced a 1-0 MCC lead.
“I just think (McLennan) came out ready and came out swinging it, and we just had a slow start,” Chestnut said. “It's baseball.”
A key mistake by TC's defense assisted the Highlanders in the second. MCC had runners at first and second with one out when Santos hit a ground ball to first baseman Cole Payne, who tried to start a double play. But Payne's high throw to second sailed into left field, allowing Hank Bard to score. And when Temple made another errant throw in the infield on the same disastrous play, Izzy Lopez raced home to make it 3-0. Blake Jackson then chopped an RBI single to center for a 4-0 game.
Quiroga issued two one-out walks in the third before Santos ripped a two-out, run-scoring double down the line in left to push MCC's advantage to 5-0. It could have been 7-0, but freshman second baseman Chestnut made a spectacular leaping catch of Jackson's scorched liner to take away a likely two-run double.
In the fourth, Oklahoma State signee Garrett Martin flared a leadoff double down the right field line, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Greer's sacrifice fly to push the Highlanders' lead to a commanding 6-0.
“Uli was up in the zone early and hung some breaking balls that he threw for strikes and those guys were on them,” McMurtry said about Quiroga. “And then we had that three-run inning where we kicked the ball around and that opened the door for a couple extra runs. We probably could've gotten out of that inning with one run. That could've been a big difference, 2-0 instead of 4-0. Uli missed some spots early and was pitching a little bit defensive, in my opinion, but then he kind of settled in.”
Quiroga (9-2) recorded a combined three strikeouts while pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth to keep MCC's lead at 6-0.
Meanwhile, Temple's offense couldn't get anything going against 6-foot-5 southpaw Rose (8-1), who spotted his fastball well, changed speeds and didn't allow a hit or a walk in the first five innings as he worked around two infield errors and a hit batter.
“Brady's one of those guys that if you look at the radar gun, you go, 'How is this guy getting guy after guy out?' But he has all year,” Thompson said about Rose. “We kind of kid around that he throws an 'invisi-ball.' It's tough to see. He's got some deception to him and guys don't get very good swings off of him very often.”
Said Chestnut: “Their guy was mixing up a fastball and changeup and getting us off-balance and getting weak, early outs. You tip your cap to him, because he got us out for five innings.”
With Temple trailing 6-0 entering the bottom of the sixth and with no hits on its ledger, Chestnut found a way to motivate himself before he faced Rose for the third time.
“We came out just tense and putting pressure on ourselves. Pressure's only created when you're not having fun,” Chestnut said. “I told myself, 'I've got to get something going at the plate. Have fun. Win or lose, you're getting to playing a game that a lot of people don't get to play, so just relax and play.'"
After Seth Stephenson drew a leadoff walk, Chestnut got a full-count, inside fastball up in the strike zone from Rose and launched it over the fence in left for a two-run homer that gave the Leopards' bats a much-needed jolt.
Gray Harrison relieved Rose after Clark Henry's one-out single, then pinch hitter Raul Aragon hit another single before Dylan Blomquist (Belton) delivered another pinch-hit single into center to drive in Henry, trimming TC's deficit to 6-3 as the momentum continued to shift.
In the seventh McLennan was able to get a run back against Temple lefty reliever Mason Brandenberger, who walked two batters and mishandled a sacrifice bunt before Lopez hit an RBI double to right-center for a 7-3 game.
But the revived Leopards came right back, scoring three runs in the seventh to get within one run at 7-6. A throwing error moved Joseph Redfield to second on his infield single, and Harrison hit Stephenson with a pitch. With runners on second and third with one out, Chestnut struck out on a sharp slider. However, Payne picked up his team with two outs by drilling a two-run single into left for a 7-5 game. After Henry walked, pinch hitter Andruw Gonzales greeted lefty reliever Jack Hattrup by ripping an RBI single to plate Payne as the fired-up Leopards made it 7-6.
Right-handed relievers Jace Walker for Temple and Jack Williams for McLennan worked scoreless eighth innings before the Highlanders produced a key insurance run in the ninth.
Walker got a popup and a flyout before McLennan inserted left-handed pinch hitter Rosengard, a .330 batter whose well-struck fly ball to left-center rode the wind and carried over the scoreboard for a homer and a 8-6 lead before Rosengard's teammates mobbed
“I thought the pitch Jace Walker made wasn't a bad pitch. Their guy inside-outed it and got it up in the air,” McMurtry said.
Facing Williams and a two-run deficit in the ninth, the Leopards made a strong bid to push the battle into extra innings or even win it. Chestnut chopped a leadoff single through the left side, then Payne ripped a single to left.
“We felt good about Jack Williams, because his eighth inning was so good,” Thompson said.
But after cleanup batter Henry's first attempt at a sacrifice bunt was unsuccessful, he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that moved Chestnut to third. McLennan then brought in burly closer Landry Wideman, whose wild pitch allowed Chestnut to score for an 8-7 game.
Gonzales represented the tying run, but Wideman struck him out looking on an outside-corner fastball to end the game and the Highlanders finally could exhale after the resilient Leopards turned the would-be blowout game into a late-inning nail-biter.
McMurtry said Temple will send second-year freshman lefty Blomquist (4-3, 3.53 ERA) to the mound for Sunday evening's rematch with Midland in Abilene as the Leopards seek to extend their season to Monday and earn another opportunity to beat nemesis McLennan. Thompson said the Highlanders will pitch righty Will Carsten (8-1) or lefty Hattrup (7-2) against the TC-Midland survivor.
“Those guys are good, and you can't expect to win the game getting no-hit until the sixth,” Chestnut said about McLennan. “We had some good hits and made it close, but they still don't think we are who we are. They don't know how well we can play, and I still don't think we've proved it yet. I think we're going to come back (Sunday and Monday) and show them, big-time.”
NJCAA Region V Tournament
No. 15 McLennan 8,
Temple College 7
McLennan 131 100 101 – 8 9 2
Temple 000 003 301 – 7 10 3
McLennan: Brady Rose, Gray Harrison (6), Jack Hattrup (7), Jack Williams (8), Landry Wideman (9) and Dominic Tamez. Temple: Ulises Quiroga, Mason Brandenberger (7), Jace Walker (7), Marcus Mott (9) and Sammy Diaz. W – Rose (8-1). L – Quiroga (9-2). Sv – Wideman (7). HR – MCC: Benjamin Rosengard (3); TC: Travis Chestnut (4). 2B – MCC: Garrett Martin, Izzy Lopez.
Highlights – McLennan: Rose no-hitter through five innings, two hits, three runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings; Mason Greer two runs batted in; Rosengard pinch-hit solo home run in ninth inning; Miguel Santos 2-for-5, two runs; Lopez run-scoring double, run; Tamez RBI single, walk, run; Hank Bard 1-for-2, walk, two runs; Martin 1-for-3, hit by pitch twice, run; Temple: Chestnut 2-for-5, two-run home run in sixth broke up no-hitter, two runs; Cole Payne 2-for-5, two-run single in seventh, run; Joseph Redfield 2-for-4, run; Seth Stephenson walk, hit by pitch, stolen base, two runs; Dylan Blomquist pinch-hit RBI single in sixth; Quiroga five strikeouts, seven hits, six runs allowed in six innings.
Records – McLennan 39-16; Temple 38-15.
Notes – McLennan wins winners-bracket game at Bosque River Ballpark in Waco and advances to championship round of four-team, double-elimination NJCAA Region V tournament; Temple will play Midland (29-15) in elimination game at 6 p.m. Sunday at Abilene Christian University (because of inclement weather in Waco); Temple-Midland winner will play McLennan in championship round at 10 a.m. Monday at ACU; if necessary, a second championship game will be played at 1 p.m. Monday.