GOT HIM: Temple College sophomore pitcher Mason Bryant follows through on a third-inning slider that struck out Weatherford's Kooper Shook during the Leopards' 10-3 win over the Coyotes in Wednesday's doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Freshman Luke Banister is TC's catcher. Bryant (5-2) had nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings for TC (28-19, 11-15), which won 6-3 in Game 2 to sweep fourth-place Weatherford in a key NTJCAC doubleheader. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Like a cold plate of leftovers going from the refrigerator to the microwave oven, Temple College’s baseball team needs to get hot in a hurry.
Getting swept in a four-game series against rival and defending national champion McLennan last week seemingly left the up-and-down Leopards in dire straits with eight games remaining in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play.
Although TC entered this week possibly needing to finish 7-1 or even 8-0 to earn a berth in May’s NJCAA Region V Tournament, freshman starting pitcher Dawson Tourney said head coach Craig McMurtry made it clear to the Leopards that their comeback had to begin with a short-range goal: Wednesday afternoon’s series-opening game against fourth-place Weatherford at Danny Scott Sports Complex.
“The team’s mindset . . . I just think we had a problem always thinking too big at the start. Coach sat us down today and was like, ‘Guys, you can’t think about going 7-1. You’ve got to think about winning the first one first,’” Tourney said. “So it’s just been try to take it one game at a time and keep playing how we’ve been playing.
“Today we made sure that if (Weatherford) made any mistakes that we took advantage of them, and we tried to have as few (mistakes) as possible. I don’t think we had too many.”
Starting pitchers Mason Bryant and Tourney set the tone for Temple.
In the seven-inning opener, sophomore right-hander Bryant racked up nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings and Caleb Hill’s pinch-hit grand slam highlighted a seven-run explosion in the fifth as the Leopards clobbered the Coyotes 10-3.
Freshman lefty Tourney was similarly sharp in the nine-inning finale as he struck out eight and allowed only two hits in six-plus innings, and Joseph Redfield and Colby Christian blasted back-to-back solo home runs in the sixth to help Temple pull away for a 6-3 victory that secured its must-have doubleheader sweep.
“I thought it was really complete games both games. We pitched really well. Bryant did a great job the first game, we played solid defense and the hitters obviously swung the bats well,” McMurtry said. “And in the second game, the same thing. Tourney pitched a great game. Those were two complete games as far as pretty much everything.
“When you win, you want it to be that you won the game. You’ll take a win any way you can, but from my perspective you want to win the game and you want to beat somebody. I thought we won the games by the way we played.”
By day’s end, Temple (28-19) had improved its NTJCAC record to 11-15 and moved into sole possession of fifth place, one game behind Weatherford (31-18, 12-14). The teams will meet again Saturday for a noon doubleheader in Weatherford, where the Leopards will seek to complete a series sweep and need a split or better to seize the series victory and gain the potentially vital head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Coyotes.
McMurtry said he plays to use sophomore righty Davis Pratt and a freshman lefty – Dash Albus or Texas Tech signee Hudson Luce, who's trying to overcome a shoulder ailment – as TC’s starting pitchers at Weatherford.
At 10-16 in conference play, Cisco and Hill share sixth place, one game behind Temple. The NTJCAC’s top four finishers will advance to May’s Region V Tournament at Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Leopards will complete conference play next week with a four-game series against eighth-place Vernon (8-18 NTJCAC).
“We’ve already put ourselves in a tough position. You don’t want to make it any tougher, going into that last series knowing you’ve got to win four games,” said McMurtry, whose 2021 club won 39 games and was eliminated from regional tournament play by McLennan, the eventual champion of the Junior College World Series. “Vernon beat Weatherford twice. We’ve got an uphill climb, no doubt. But hey, it’s kind of in our hands.
“If we can find a way to do something really great by winning seven or eight games, that would be awesome to at least give ourselves a chance from where we put ourselves. It comes down to Saturday, but it’s been that way now for a while.”
Bryant (5-2) got the day off to a positive start for Temple, recording a strikeout and a double play in a scoreless first inning. The Leopards’ offense then made its presence felt. Holland graduate Zane Spinn employed a headfirst slide to beat out a one-out infield single, and Hogan Heller ripped a single into center field.
Lefty Kade Bragg struck out Simon Larranaga, but Christian came through by scorching a single into center to drive in Spinn for a 1-0 lead.
The 6-foot-5, hard-throwing Bryant struck out two Weatherford batters in each of the second and third innings, but the Coyotes used a Temple mistake to create a 1-1 tie in the third.
Singles by Robin Villenueve and Cade Merka gave the Coyotes runners on the corners with one out, then Bryant’s low pickoff throw skipped past first base and well into foul territory, allowing Villenueve to score and Merka to reach third.
But the Leopards limited the damage as sophomore shortstop Spinn, playing in, made a diving stop to his left to snare Kameron Weil’s sharp grounder and throw him out as Merka decided to stay at third. Bryant escaped further damage by striking out Kooper Shook looking with an inside-corner slider.
Weatherford threatened again in the fourth, using a hit and a walk to get two runners into scoring position. But with two outs, Bryant stranded them by striking out Villenueve with a low fastball.
Temple grabbed the lead for good in the fourth. A Bragg pitch hit the left-handed-hitting Redfield on his right (throwing) elbow with one out, and the speedy Redfield – who missed several key games recently because of a strained hamstring – stole second. Andre Jackson struck out, but catcher and No. 9 batter Luke Banister ripped a two-out RBI single into center to give the Leopards a 2-1 edge. Temple had two runners in scoring position, but Spinn struck out swinging on a Bragg slider.
Bryant, a former Texas Longhorns player, pitched a perfect fifth before TC’s offense ignited to give him more than adequate support. Singles by Heller and Christian and a Raithen Malone walk loaded the bases with one out. Redfield, having strapped on a teammate’s protective elbow pad, sliced an RBI single to left to extend the lead to 3-1.
CELEBRATING IN GRAND STYLE: Temple College sophomore Caleb Hill (left) trots home after hitting a pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth inning of the Leopards' 10-3 win over Weatherford in Wednesday's first game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Joseph Redfield (crossing home plate), Raithen Malone (4) and Colby Christian also scored. Hill's blast gave TC a 7-1 lead. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Jackson was scheduled to bat against Bragg, but when Weatherford brought in righty Nuno Parache from the bullpen, TC countered by bringing sturdy sophomore Hill, a left-handed batter, off its bench as a pinch hitter. The move paid major dividends. Hill blasted Parache’s first pitch over the fence in right-center for a game-changing grand slam and a commanding 7-1 lead.
McMurtry credited longtime Temple assistant coach and third base coach Frank Kellner for inserting Hill – whose homer was his fifth this season – at the perfect time.
“Coach Kellner usually calls the shots on that stuff. I mean, he’s got the hitters and he knows who he wants up there in certain situations, and it worked out great,” said McMurtry, a former major league pitcher. “Hill comes and first pitch hits a home run. You can’t ask for anything better.”
The Leopards weren’t satisfied, though. Banister doubled to right-center and scored to make it 8-1 when sophomore leadoff batter and Texas A&M signee Travis Chestnut pounded a triple to right-center. Spinn singled and stole second, with the catcher’s errant throw into center field allowing Chestnut to score for a 9-1 game. In all, TC sent 12 batters to the plate in its seven-run barrage in the fifth.
Suddenly armed with a huge lead, Bryant notched two strikeouts in the sixth but also allowed consecutive solo homers to Austin Green and Tennessee signee Cal Stark. Bryant exited after 5 2/3 stellar innings and freshman righty Hagen Rose (Troy) relieved him and got an infield flyout.
After TC scored an insurance run in the sixth to make it 10-3, Rose began the seventh with a strikeout and negated Eddie Calzoncit’s single by getting Merka to hit into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play.
In the important nine-inning finale, Tourney walked leadoff batter Weil and an infield throwing error sent Chase Pendley to second with one out. However, Tourney recovered by getting a popup and striking out Stark.
The Leopards’ offense proceeded to give Tourney (5-4) immediate run support in the first inning against righty starter Micah Berens. Chestnut reached on an infield error and stole second and third, then Hill walked and stole second.
Berens struck out Spinn and Chestnut then got tagged out between third and home on Chris Morrow’s chopper, although he stayed in the rundown long enough for two runners to move into scoring position. With two outs, Redfield – like Spinn a Sam Houston State signee – knocked a sharp single into center to drive in Hill and Morrow for a 2-0 Temple advantage.
“The run support was great. It’s nice when your bats get hot early in the game,” Tourney said. “It helps as a pitcher that if you go out in the first couple innings and put up a few zeroes and your team puts up runs for you, it helps you out there on the mound to know that even if I gave up one run, your team still has the lead.”
TOURNEY TIME: Temple College freshman left-handed pitcher Dawson Tourney reacts as he strikes out Weatherford batter Noah Boughton looking with an outside-corner fastball during the fourth inning of the Leopards' 6-3 win over the Coyotes in Game 2 on Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex. TC's catcher is freshman and Temple Wildcats product Bryan Williams. Tourney (5-4), from Bakersfield, California, struck out eight and allowed two singles in six-plus innings to help TC record a much-needed doubleheader sweep as the fifth-place Leopards improved to 11-15 in the NTJCAC. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Expertly mixing his fastball, slider and changeup to keep the Coyotes off-balance, Tourney – who hails from Bakersfield, California and contacted TC as a high schooler because he wanted to play in its highly competitive conference – registered four consecutive strikeouts between the second and third innings and added two more strikeouts in the fourth.
“I knew it was a lot,” Tourney said about the task of containing Weatherford. “They were a pretty good team coming into this and I knew I had a good defense behind me. I just had to go out there and hit my spots.”
A key mistake by Weatherford’s defense permitted Temple to push its lead to 3-0 in the third. Reliever Bristol Carson fielded Hill’s leadoff drag bunt but his underhanded, on-the-move toss sailed over the first baseman and down the line, allowing Hill to sprint to third. Spinn’s ensuing groundout to first drove in Hill.
The only hits Tourney allowed were Alex Vergara’s one-out single in the second and Pendley’s one-out single in the sixth. Neither runner advanced past first in what McMurtry and Tourney said was the young southpaw’s best performance.
“I thought it was. Dawson's fastball had some life to it today. He was throwing it with some velocity and had some life on his pitches, and then his off-speed stuff kept them really off-balance,” McMurtry said. “His slider was really good and he kept throwing it for a strike and getting ahead with it, whether it was a swing and miss or a called strike.
"Then he’d throw the fastball and they were late on it. He surprised some guys with the fastball, and that’s the name of the game. I mean, he pitched. He got us into the seventh inning, so that’s a great outing.”
Tourney didn’t allow an earned run in five innings against then-No. 5-ranked McLennan but still absorbed the loss in TC’s 2-1 home defeat last Wednesday. He said Weatherford was his best outing in a Leopards uniform.
“I’d have to say so, yeah. There definitely were some other good outings, but this one, it was pretty much the whole game it felt like my stuff was on. I didn’t miss too many spots,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Tourney, whose catcher was freshman and Temple Wildcats product Bryan Williams. "I’ve noticed that I can’t be making the same mistakes like I used to in high school, basically. Based on the start of the year, I made too many mistakes and I figured out that you get punished for those, especially in a conference like this.”
Temple provided additional run support for Tourney in the sixth. Redfield rocked his third homer to right and Christian followed by crushing his fifth homer to left for a 5-0 game.
Tourney walked Noah Boughton to start Weatherford’s seventh, then received loud applause as he walked to the dugout as Rose jogged in for his second relief stint on the day. Consecutive singles by Vergara and Nathan Rooney pushed across the Coyotes’ first run, but Rose kept it 5-1 by getting a double-play grounder and a lineout.
Temple widened its lead to 6-1 in the seventh as Chestnut singled – his fourth hit in the doubleheader – and stole second before Spinn delivered a two-out RBI double inside the bag at first.
Rose pitched a scoreless eighth but encountered trouble in the ninth, walking Boughton before Vergara hit a two-run homer to left to cut Weatherford’s deficit to 6-3. After a Rose pitch hit Rooney, McMurtry summoned sophomore Mason Brandenberger from the bullpen and the sidewinding lefty got a strikeout, a flyout and a groundout to save the Leopards’ all-important doubleheader sweep.
McMurtry said he still thinks about Temple getting swept by now-last-place North Central Texas in its conference-opening four-game series in March. It’s been quite difficult for the Leopards to overcome that disappointing result, but here they are, still alive and chasing a postseason berth with six games remaining.
“Yep, (I think about it) every week. It’s ridiculous that we let that happen,” McMurtry said. “I’m an eternal pessimist, so we’ll see."
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