GETTING FEISTY: First-place TC overcomes Ranger's Game 1 homers, erupts in finale for another sweep
REVENGE OF THE SETH: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson connects for a two-run home run to left field against Ranger pitcher Joe Wolf during the second inning of the 18th-ranked Leopards' 15-3, five-inning win in Wednesday's second game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. It was the team-leading eighth homer this season for Stephenson, the Tennessee signee and Major League Baseball draft prospect who had three hits in TC's 6-4 victory in Game 1 and scored four runs in the finale. Coach Craig McMurtry's first-place Leopards improved to 33-8 overall, 20-1 at home and 16-6 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
In the second inning of Wednesday afternoon's second baseball game at Danny Scott Sports Complex, Temple College standout freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson swung hard and connected squarely on a pitch from Ranger left-hander Joe Wolf.
As the ball sailed through the sky on its way far over the left field wall for a two-run home run, Stephenson continued to watch it as he walked along the first base line. When he was one-third of the way to first, he glared into Ranger's dugout and flipped his bat in that general direction before jogging around the bases and celebrating with his fired-up teammates upon returning to home plate.
However, to hear him describe it afterward, that wasn't simply an isolated case of Stephenson – the speedy Tennessee signee who's an emerging prospect for Major League Baseball's July draft – displaying questionable sportsmanship and showing up the Leopards' opponent for no good reason.
The backstory was that on the second of Ranger's three home runs during No. 18-ranked Temple's 6-4 victory in the doubleheader opener, Rangers slugger Jose Gutierrez apparently infuriated TC's players during the fourth inning by walking to first and flipping his bat high into the air following his two-run blast to right field that created the Leopards' 4-2 deficit.
“When they hit that bomb, the big ol' lefty (Gutierrez) walked all the way down the line and tossed his bat as high as he could toss it. That made us mad, and I had wanted to get them back since that at-bat, so we got them back,” Stephenson said after TC's 15-3, five-inning win in the second game. “They wanted to do it to us, so we did it to them. We had said in our circle before we took the field (for Game 2), 'Whoever hits one, make sure we get 'em back.' We were planning to do it.”
No-nonsense Temple head coach Craig McMurtry disagreed with how Stephenson and his teammates decided to handle that situation, but that type of competitive resolve and feisty play was symbolic of a cohesive, confident team that's aiming to win the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference championship and accomplish even more.
After Ranger's three homers put first-place Temple in a 4-2 hole in the seven-inning opener, the Leopards charged back with a three-run fourth to take the lead for good and Nathan Medrano pitched five innings before freshman left-hander Mason Brandenberger fired two dominant frames with five strikeouts to seal TC's 6-4 win.
Ranger erased its early 3-0 deficit in the scheduled nine-inning finale, but Temple exploded for a nine-run third inning that featured Andre Jackson's pair of two-run singles and Cole Payne's two-run single and the Leopards seized a commanding 12-3 advantage en route to their 15-3, five-inning victory.
It was the second NTJCAC home doubleheader sweep in three days for the 33-8 Leopards, who beat Grayson 11-1 and 4-0 on Monday to split an important four-game series. Temple improved to 16-6 in conference play, maintaining a one-game lead over rival McLennan with 10 league games remaining for each squad. They'll clash in May to conclude the regular season.
“We never take a team lightly, and we were just trying to put up some runs. We had a good day on Monday, so we were just trying to carry off of that and focus on our approach at the plate and help our pitchers out,” said Leopards freshman third baseman Ty Tilson, who had three hits with an RBI double and scored two runs in Game 1, drove in a run and scored two in Game 2 and played sharp defense throughout.
PRODUCTIVE PERFORMER: Freshman third baseman Ty Tilson played a large role in Temple College's home sweep against Ranger on Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The Georgetown graduate had three hits and scored two runs in the 18th-ranked Leopards' 6-4 win in Game 1, had a run batted in and two runs in TC's 15-3, five-inning victory in Game 2 and played sharp defense in the doubleheader. Tilson has 35 runs batted in this season. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
McMurtry said it was vital for Temple to grab the first win against Ranger, especially with TC's pitching resources depleted after the Leopards' home doubleheader against Grayson was pushed from Saturday to Monday because of weather-related postponements.
“That was real big, because I think that hopefully got (Ranger) down a little bit,” said McMurtry, whose club improved its home record to 20-1. “Not knowing who was going to pitch the second game because of the issues we had with the Grayson series, being able to get a couple of innings out of (spot starter) Jackson Sioson (was a key factor).
“Obviously our hitters came through and it was a five-inning game. If we had to go nine innings in that second game, it could get a little dicey. You hope that your relievers can come in and do their job, and it was good that Diego (Fernandez) gave us a couple innings and then (Marcus) Mott looked really good in the last inning.”
Leadoff batter Austin Hale hit a home run in each game for seventh-place Ranger (14-30, 8-14 NTJCAC), which took advantage of a strong wind blowing out to right field to hit four homers, while Stephenson's Game 2 blast was Temple's lone homer.
Medrano (7-3) was sharp early in the seven-inning opener. The Houston-signed sophomore right-hander had three strikeouts in the first two innings, allowing only an Alexander Olivo single.
Temple came up empty in the first inning against righty Diego Oquendo despite three singles and a hit batter. Stephenson hit a leadoff single, stole second and raced to third on Joseph Redfield's flyout to right, then stayed at third on Tilson's high-bouncing single in front of the plate. Stephenson tried to score on a pickoff throw to first but was thrown out at home. Clark Henry singled and Dylan Blomquist was hit to load the bases with two outs, but Oquendo got an easy force out on Raul Aragon's soft comebacker.
In a scoreless game, Medrano struck out the first two Rangers in the third but then ran into trouble. Hale lifted a fly ball that rode the stiff breeze over the fence for a homer and a 1-0 Ranger lead.
The Leopards broke through in the third to grab their first lead. Tilson hit a one-out single and still was at first with two outs, but Belton graduate Blomquist singled and Aragon reached on an infield error to lead the bases. Sophomore catcher Sammy Diaz came through by ripping a single off the glove of leaping shortstop Hale into left-center to drive in Tilson and Blomquist for a 2-1 advantage.
TC's lead was short-lived, however, because the visiting team resumed its Power Rangers act in the fourth. An error by second baseman Travis Chestnut let Australian Ciaran Palmer reach base before Medrano struck out Olivo. Gutierrez, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound freshman designated hitter, then launched Medrano's offering over the fence in right – admiring the ball's long-distance flight during his leisurely stroll to first – for his aforementioned homer and a 3-2 Ranger lead.
After a strikeout, the Rangers extended their advantage to 4-2 when catcher Tristan Pitkin – who played at TC during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season – blasted a solo homer to right-center to punctuate a three-run outburst.
“I thought he pitched OK. He threw well. I mean, it's one of those days (with the wind blowing out to right),” McMurtry said of Medrano, who entered the day with a 2.29 earned-run average and having allowed only four homers in 55 innings. “This has been a crazy year. This is the most the wind's ever blown out here in a season. Normally we might have one (day like that), and we've probably had three or four or more.”
The Leopards had a strong response in their half of the fourth, pushing across three runs of their own to regain the lead at 5-4. Chestnut reached on a leadoff error before Stephenson singled softly to left-center. Stephenson was thrown out by Pitkin while trying to steal second, but Redfield flared an RBI single to left to make it 4-3 and then scored the tying run when Tilson drilled an RBI double to left, his third hit in the game. Tilson took third on a wild pitch and scored the go-ahead run on Henry's hard-hit sacrifice fly to left.
“We're never satisfied when we're on offense, at all. Whenever we get a chance, we're trying to put up as many runs as we can,” said Tilson, who has 35 runs batted in. “We don't want to stop until the umpire tells us the ballgame's over. Nathan pitched a great game. The wind certainly didn't help anything, but that didn't change our attack or our plan at the plate. I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and hunting the fastball. I was waiting for my pitch and got it a couple times and it worked out.”
Said McMurtry about Tilson, one of TC's three Georgetown graduates: “Ty's been very solid. He's an everyday player that plays a solid third base. At the plate, he doesn't get overwhelmed, it seems, with bad swings or a bad at-bat. He just goes up there and keeps grinding.”
Medrano walked Hale to begin the fifth but picked him off at first, then struck out Brandon Holdren. Medrano's final batter was Palmer, whose hard grounder into the hole was snared on the backhand side by a diving Stephenson, who fired to the outstretched Aragon at first to complete the defensive gem.
“What about that play? I don't want to say that was a big league play, but that was a very, very athletic play,” McMurtry said. “He was fully extended and jumped up and threw it right there.”
After Medrano compiled nine strikeouts, lefty reliever Brandenberger took over for Temple in the sixth and was dominant, striking out Olivo and Landon Roque with sliders and Gutierrez with a fastball.
TC added an insurance run in the sixth. Chestnut hit a leadoff single to right and went to second on Stephenson's single over shortstop, then both runners advanced on Redfield's sacrifice bunt and Ranger intentionally walked Tilson to load the bases with one out. Chris Kean struck out Henry with a high fastball, but Kean then uncorked a wild pitch into the dirt and Chestnut scored for a 6-4 TC lead.
BRINGING THE HEAT: Temple College freshman left-hander Mason Brandenberger delivers a pitch to Ranger's Landon Roque during the sixth inning of the Leopards' 6-4 victory in Wednesday's first game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Brandenberger pitched the final two innings and racked up five strikeouts to earn his first college save. TC sophomore righty Nathan Medrano (7-3) pitched the first five innings, compiling nine strikeouts. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Tilson's diving stab took a single away from Brice Montillaro to begin Ranger's seventh. Brandenberger struck out Seth McAlister looking with a slider and walked Colbie Fritchen before he struck out the dangerous Hale – who represented the tying run – with a sweeping slider, giving him five strikeouts in two sharp innings and securing a hard-earned win for the Leopards.
Sioson's first 11 pitching appearances this season came in relief, but the second-year freshman sidearmer was given his first starting opportunity against Ranger in the series finale that was scheduled for nine innings. Palmer popped a two-out double in the first, but Sioson retired Olivo on a hot shot fielded by Stephenson.
Although Temple grabbed a first-inning lead, Wolf did well to limit the damage. Stephenson ripped a leadoff double to right-center before Wolf walked Chestnut and Tilson to load the bases. After Henry fouled out, Payne's fielder's-choice grounder drove in Stephenson for a 1-0 edge. Andruw Gonzales walked to load the bases again, but Wolf escaped the jam on Blomquist's groundout to first.
After Sioson pitched a perfect second inning, TC expanded its lead to 3-0. Redfield beat out a single and stole second. That set the stage for Stephenson's team-leading eighth homer, a no-doubt rocket to left that he stood and admired as he walked down the line before flipping his bat toward Ranger's dugout, as Gutierrez had done in Game 1 to draw the ire of the Leopards' players.
McMurtry said he didn't get to see Stephenson's post-contact actions because he was looking elsewhere, but the former major league pitcher and TC's 23rd-season skipper with 700-plus wins was told about what happened.
And McMurtry, whose baseball beliefs definitely skew toward “old school,” certainly didn't like it, even though his star shortstop's primary intention was to motivate his team.
“I didn't even see it, but I will say something to (Stephenson) about it. That's not the way we play. That will be addressed tomorrow at practice,” McMurtry said. “If (Ranger) wants to act like that, they can act like that. But we're not going to. When I was playing, that would warrant somebody getting chin music or getting drilled in the ribs.”
TC owned a 3-0 lead, but it didn't last. Nate Santiago led off Ranger's third with a single, stole second and scored on Joseph Frisby's RBI single to make it 3-1. Hale then clobbered a two-run homer off a large tree beyond the wall in right, producing a 3-3 deadlock and ending Sioson's outing.
Holdren greeted sophomore lefty reliever Fernandez by ripping a double to right, but Fernandez (2-0) – who on Monday pitched three hitless innings against Grayson to finish TC's Game 2 shutout – came back to strike out Palmer and got two more outs.
The game then completely changed in the bottom of the third. The Leopards sent 14 batters to the plate and buried Ranger with an avalanche of nine runs to take a commanding 12-3 lead.
MAKING A CONNECTION: Temple College freshman left fielder Andre Jackson rips the second of his two two-run singles during the third inning of the No. 18-ranked Leopards' 15-3, five-inning win over Ranger in Wednesday's second game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Jackson helped TC send 14 batters to the plate and score nine runs in the third as the Leopards transformed a 3-3 game into a 12-3 lead on their way to sweeping the NTJCAC doubleheader. Cole Payne and Andruw Gonzales scored on Jackson's second two-run single. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Jackson drove in Payne and Blomquist with a one-out single to left-center for a 5-3 Temple advantage, then reliever Austin Bell walked Tilson and Henry to force in two more runs before Payne's flare down the line in right dropped in for a two-run single that made it 9-3. Blomquist drew a bases-loaded walk before Jackson capped the offensive tour de force by stroking another two-run single to left for a 12-3 Leopards lead.
“Jackson had a couple big hits in the second game and had four RBI, and Seth had three hits and scored four runs and stole some bases,” McMurtry said about two of the major players in TC's offensive output.
Chestnut contributed an RBI single, Henry added a run-scoring groundout and an error plated another run during Temple's three run fourth, which made it 15-3 and put the Leopards in position to end the game four innings early on the 10-run rule.
Mott made quick work of Ranger in the fifth. The hard-throwing righty from Lake Charles, Louisiana, struck out Frisby and Hale before a third-strike wild pitch allowed the next batter to reach. Mott struck Palmer out looking to wrap up a rare four-strikeout inning and the Leopards' second conference doubleheader sweep in three days.
Temple's pitching staff racked up 22 strikeouts in 12 innings against Ranger. The Leopards' batters struck out only six times.
“This is the best record we've had at this point in the season, with the 33 wins, and I know we've never gone into the last 2½ weeks of conference with 16 (NTJCAC) wins,” said McMurtry, whose team will complete the four-game series Saturday with a noon doubleheader at Ranger. “The guys are playing well and doing the stuff they're supposed to do, but I reiterated to them that it's not how you start; it's how you finish.
“I know we're close to the end, but we're definitely not at the end, so we have a lot of work to do and I don't want them to start counting their chickens before they hatch. The first thing I want to do is secure a playoff spot hopefully in the next week and a half."
Northern Texas Junior College
No. 18 Temple College 6,
Ranger 001 300 0 – 4 4 2
Temple 002 301 X – 6 11 2
R: Diego Oquendo, Matthew Shira (4), Chris Kean (6) and Tristan Pitkin. TC: Nathan Medrano, Mason Brandenberger (6) and Sammy Diaz. W – Medrano (7-3). L – Shira (0-2). Sv – Brandenberger (1). HR – R: Austin Hale (6), Jose Gutierrez (6), Tristan Pitkin (3). 2B – TC: Ty Tilson.
Highlights – TC: Medrano nine strikeouts, four hits allowed in five innings; Brandenberger five strikeouts, no hits allowed in two innings; Tilson 3-for-3, run batted in, two runs; Seth Stephenson 3-for-4; Diaz two-run single; Travis Chestnut 1-for-2, walk, two runs; Joseph Redfield 1-for-3, RBI, run; Clark Henry 1-for-3, RBI; Dylan Blomquist 1-for-3, hit by pitch, run; R: Gutierrez two-run home run.
No. 18 Temple College 15,
Ranger 3 (5)
Ranger 003 00 – 3 5 4
Temple 129 3X – 15 8 0
R: Joe Wolf, Gentry Busch (3), Austin Bell (3), Ryan Johnson (3) and Tristan Pitkin, Chris Kean (4). TC: Jackson Sioson, Diego Fernandez (3), Marcus Mott (5) and Andruw Gonzales. W – Fernandez (2-0). L – Busch (0-1). HR – R: Austin Hale (7); TC: Seth Stephenson (8). 2B – R: Ciaran Palmer, Brandon Holdren; TC: Stephenson, Dylan Blomquist.
Highlights – TC: Stephenson 2-for-3, two-run home run, walk, four runs; Andre Jackson two two-run singles in third inning; Cole Payne three RBI, two runs; Ty Tilson RBI, two walks, two runs; Travis Chestnut RBI, two runs; Clark Henry two RBI; Blomquist RBI, run; Joseph Redfield two runs; Gonzales two walks, run; Sioson two strikeouts in two innings; Fernandez two strikeouts in two innings; Mott four strikeouts in fifth inning; R: Hale two-run home run; Joseph Frisby RBI single, run.
Records – Temple 33-8 overall, 16-6 in NTJCAC; Ranger 14-30, 8-14.
Note – First-place Temple sweeps NTJCAC doubleheader and will complete the four-game series Saturday with a noon doubleheader at Ranger.