MUST-HAVE WINS: After conference-opening losses at Weatherford, determined TC baseball seizes sweep
BIG HIT: Temple College freshman third baseman Ty Tilson connects for a two-run single off the fence in left field during the fifth inning of the Leopards' 6-5 win over Weatherford in Saturday's opening game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. TC won the finale 9-6 to sweep the doubleheader and earn a four-game split with the Coyotes in both teams' first Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference series this year. Coach Craig McMurtry's Leopards (13-4, 2-2 NTJCAC) next will host Vernon in a doubleheader at noon Wednesday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Despite the fact that Temple College and Weatherford both have 28 conference baseball games remaining after this weekend, the intensity and competitive brand of baseball that was played on Saturday afternoon and into the evening at windswept Danny Scott Sports Complex made the doubleheader feel like a league championship or the final postseason berth was at stake.
And because Temple lost its first two conference games Wednesday at Weatherford, there certainly was an added aspect of desperation – even though it's merely mid-March – in the Leopards' dugout.
“It was very important,” TC head coach Craig McMurtry said afterward.
Hungry to avoid a losing first week in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play and build momentum for the remainder of the 32-game league grind, TC handled the self-imposed pressure well and came up with the goods to grab a pair of vital victories.
In the seven-inning opener, Ty Tilson's two-run single off the left field fence highlighted Temple's five-run, go-ahead fifth inning, starting pitcher Ulises Quiroga racked up eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 effective innings and Belton graduate Brian Shadrick registered the final four outs to save the Leopards' 6-5 win.
Reliever Diego Fernandez boosted Temple by pitching four innings in the nine-inning finale, and Sammy Diaz, Seth Stephenson and David Wilson sparked the offense by producing a combined 10 hits and four runs batted in before Shadrick earned another save as the Leopards prevailed 9-6 for the must-have sweep.
“It was really important for us to win these two games today and get the ball rolling again,” said Stephenson, TC's speedy second-year freshman shortstop who has signed with Tennessee. “Weatherford's a good team. Everyone on the field wants to win. We've got nine dogs out there.”
After the Leopards improved to 13-4 overall and 2-2 in the NTJCAC, second-year freshman Shadrick – whose release point is somewhere in between submarine and sidearm, according to former major league pitcher McMurtry – spoke about embracing the pressure of the moment and coming through.
“We needed these today. They were must-win games,” the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Shadrick said after securing his second and third saves this season. “This is when baseball's fun. I don't know if I feel anxiety. I just feel the adrenaline and it's what I've been doing my whole life.”
SAVING THE DAY: Temple College freshman pitcher Brian Shadrick, a Belton graduate, earned the save in both of the Leopards' home wins against Weatherford on Saturday in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference action at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The 6-foot-3, 165-pound right-hander used his submarine/sidearm delivery to get the final four outs of the Leopards' 6-5 victory in Game 1, then recorded the final five outs of their 9-6 win in the nightcap. Shadrick posted three strikeouts overall and didn't allow a hit. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Diaz, a sophomore catcher, has been with TC for only two months after transferring in from NCAA Division III University of Redlands in California. He said that after the Leopards lost their conference-opening doubleheader 8-2 and 6-5 on Wednesday in Weatherford, they were determined to redeem themselves with a home sweep of the Coyotes (16-8, 2-2).
“They were extremely needed,” Diaz said about Temple's two wins. “We need to win games to get to the playoffs, and we needed to salvage a series when we lose two in a row. We told ourselves, 'We've got to come out and take two at our place,' and that's what we did. We fought hard and we didn't let the games slip away from us like the last time.”
Diaz, who went 4-for-4, drove in two runs and scored two in Game 2, was especially impressed by the mentality and energy that the Leopards displayed throughout the doubleheader, which ended more than six hours after it began.
“It was amazing. I was trying to keep everyone up. The guys who didn't play, they did a great job of keeping the morale high,” said the 6-3, 220-pound Diaz, who caught five innings in the opener and all nine in the finale. “We tried to seize the momentum early and keep it rolling and keep it in our favor. We just played hard and it was a lot of fun out here today.”
In Wednesday's second game, Temple clawed back from a 4-0 first-inning deficit to go ahead 5-4, but the Leopards allowed two runs in the bottom of the eighth and absorbed a frustrating 6-5 loss. Back at TC's ballpark three days later, McMurtry saw the kind of competitiveness and play from his Leopards that he expected to see.
“We had a chance to win that second game up there and we let it slip away from us. We didn't make a play and it kind of got away from us late. We challenged these guys after the game,” McMurtry said. “We competed with those guys really well in the second game. We wanted to come in here today and find a way to win two ballgames, because you don't want to get down 1-3 or 0-4 to start conference. And they stepped up.
“Uli threw a great first game and was on top of his game the whole time, I thought, and Shadrick comes in and shuts it down. And then in the second game, we really didn't have a starting pitcher and Clay (Bradford) gave us a couple of innings as the opener. We're kind of searching for that fourth starter right now. We found a way to add some runs and Sammy had a really good game with four hits. (Weatherford) made some errors and we took advantage of them. We had a couple of errors as well that kept them in the ballgame, which is not what we want to do. Diego did a nice job for four innings, and again Shadrick comes in and does a really nice job of closing down the game.”
QUALITY FROM QUIROGA: Temple College freshman starting pitcher Ulises Quiroga (right) threw 5 2/3 innings and had eight strikeouts Saturday afternoon, improving to 4-0 as the Leopards edged Weatherford 6-5 in the doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Quiroga's sharp pitching was no surprise; the second-year freshman right-hander from Baytown Goose Creek Memorial entered with a 3-0 record and a 0.64 earned-run average, having permitted only six hits in 14 innings with 24 strikeouts and just one walk.
However, Quiroga had to get through some early turbulence against Weatherford in the seven-inning opener. Kameron Weil singled and Brenden Dixon walked before Brett Brown ripped a single that right fielder Wilson mishandled, allowing Weil and Dixon to score as Brown raced to third base for a 2-0 Coyotes lead with no outs.
But the ensuing Houdini act that Quiroga (4-0) performed played a key role in Temple's turnaround. With Brown on third and no outs, Quiroga stranded him there by striking out Jacob Guerrero, retiring Bo Willis on a ground ball with a drawn-in infield and striking out Hunter Rosson with a high fastball to limit the damage.
Quiroga then allowed only one hit and collected five strikeouts while keeping Weatherford scoreless in the second through fifth innings.
“Uli always does a good job and fills up the (strike) zone,” Stephenson said. “He keeps everything nonchalant, and that helps us.”
The Leopards' comeback began in their first at-bat. Travis Chestnut drew a leadoff walk against Coyotes lefty Kade Bragg before Clark Henry and Wilson hit consecutive singles to lead the bases with one out. Freshman third baseman Tilson then stroked an RBI single to right before Bragg kept the score 2-1 by getting Diaz to line into a double play.
TC couldn't get much going in the next three innings against the hard-throwing Bragg, who struck out two batters in each of the second and third frames before notching the rare four-strikeout inning in the fourth. Tilson reached first on a third-strike wild pitch before Bragg fanned Diaz, Jackson Sioson and Andre Jackson.
Quiroga featured a hard-breaking slider while striking out the side in the fifth, then the Leopards finally made their move during their game-changing half of the fifth.
No. 9 batter Cole Payne worked a long at-bat before ripping a leadoff single to right-center. Chestnut put down a sacrifice bunt and was safe when first baseman Nathan Rooney dropped the throw, and Stephenson reached on a fielder's-choice grounder when a Coyote throw to second was too late, loading the bases with no outs.
Weatherford's defense then faltered again. Third baseman Brown fielded Henry's grounder and tried to force Payne out at home, but his throw sailed a tad high and pulled catcher Willis' foot off the plate, creating a 2-2 tie and causing Coyotes head coach Jeff Lightfoot to replace Bragg with righty Hayden Alexander. Wilson then hit an infield single that brought in Chestnut to give TC its first lead at 3-2.
With the bases still loaded and a strong 25 mph wind blowing in from left field, Tilson launched a fly ball to left that in calmer conditions would have sailed well over the wall for a grand slam. The stiff breeze narrowly kept Tilson's towering drive in the ballpark, and left fielder Rosson looked like he might have a play on it. But the ball caromed off the metal fence, driving in Stephenson and Henry for a 5-2 game, although Tilson got only a single out of it after Wilson had retreated to first to tag up in case Rosson made the catch.
The Leopards completed their pivotal five-run barrage when Tilson scored on a two-out RBI single by freshman center fielder Andre Jackson that made it 6-2.
As it turned out, Temple really needed that four-run cushion.
Stephenson made an error on Guerrero's routine grounder to begin the Coyotes' sixth, then Willis ripped a single. Quiroga got Rosson looking with an outside-corner fastball for his eighth and final strikeout, but Noah Boughton singled to left field and Henry misplayed it for another error, letting Guerrero score. Rooney's RBI groundout made it 6-4 before McMurtry removed Quiroga after 5 2/3 innings.
“Uli threw a great game,” McMurtry said. “That one inning he maybe got a little tired, I don't know. But we don't make a play in that inning, either. He did a great job.”
Lefty reliever Mason Brandenberger uncorked a wild pitch that bounced high into the air, allowing Boughton to score and slice Temple's tenuous lead to 6-5. After Brandenberger walked No. 9 batter Austin Green and hit Weil with a pitch, McMurtry summoned Shadrick and the tall, lanky Belton product threw a fastball past Peyton Benesh to escape the rough inning with the one-run edge intact.
“We feel really confident whenever Shadrick comes in,” Stephenson said.
Temple couldn't add to its lead in the sixth, but Shadrick made sure that didn't matter by hurling a perfect seventh. He struck out Brown looking with a fastball, then retired Guerrero and Willis on grounders to save the Leopards' first must-have win.
“Personally, I like the pressure,” Shadrick said. “It's what I thrive on. It's what I've always been put in positions to do.”
Said McMurtry about Shadrick's development: “When he started dropping down and throwing from here (halfway between sidearm and submarine), things started getting better with that low arm slot. He's gained some velocity this year. Last year he was in the low 80s and this year he's run it up to 87 at times. Some guys can hit that, but there's quite a few (batters) that when they see this slot, it changes everything. You don't see it as often.”
Without a proven starting pitcher available for the nine-inning finale, Temple started second-year freshman lefty Bradford. He allowed Guerrero's two-out RBI double in the first, but Guerrero was thrown out in a rundown.
POP AT THE PLATE: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson, a Tennessee signee, went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and a run batted in as the Leopards beat Weatherford 9-6 in Game 2 to sweep Saturday's Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Also for TC in the finale, sophomore catcher Sammy Diaz went 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs, freshman right fielder David Wilson went 3-for-5 and drove in a run and sophomore Cole Payne had two RBI. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The Leopards seized a 2-1 lead in their half of the first against Coyotes southpaw Caden Hawkins. Stephenson popped a one-out double to left-center and Henry walked before Wilson ripped an RBI single to left to tie it. After Tilson walked, Diaz fisted a single over the first baseman to drive in Henry for the 2-1 lead before Hawkins eluded a bases-loaded jam by striking out Robert Shaw and Jackson.
Weatherford had runners at second and third with no outs in the second, but Bradford coaxed a shallow flyout, a force at home and then a groundout to escape and preserve TC's one-run edge.
The Coyotes took advantage of an ineffective relief outing by Davis Pratt to regain the lead in the third. After Weil singled and Jayden Hill walked, Texas A&M transfer Brown pummeled a Pratt offering to right-center for a three-run home run and a 4-2 lead. After Guerrero singled, McMurtry brought in third-year sophomore lefty Fernandez (1-0), a reliable strike thrower. He got a foul popup and a double-play grounder, then worked around a leadoff error to toss a scoreless fourth.
Temple forged a 4-4 deadlock in the fourth when Jackson's single to left-center drove in Diaz and Payne's groundout scored Shaw.
Fernandez then encountered trouble in the Weatherford fifth. Brown singled and Guerrero reached on Tilson's fielding error before Willis' successful sacrifice bunt. Rooney's sacrifice fly gave the Coyotes a 5-4 lead before Austin Green's RBI single to left extended it to 6-4.
That, however, proved to be the high-water mark for Weatherford. In the Leopards' half of the fifth, they sent nine batters to the plate and erupted for four runs against four relievers to grab the lead for good at 8-6. Diaz drilled a one-out double to right-center to drive in Tilson. Shaw was hit by a pitch and Jackson walked to load the bases before a pitch hit Payne, forcing in Diaz for a 6-6 tie.
Hill camped out underneath Chestnut's fly ball to medium right in anticipation of throwing home to prevent a sacrifice fly, but the ball bounced off Hill's glove for a crucial error and Shaw scored for a 7-6 Leopards lead. Stephenson then pushed it to 8-6 by lining an RBI single to right.
A defensive highlight in the Weatherford sixth kept things rolling for Temple. Fernandez walked Hill with two outs and Brown smoked a double to the wall in right, but Wilson fired the ball to second baseman Chestnut, whose strong, accurate relay throw from the outfield grass arrived just in time for Diaz to tag the speedy, sliding Hill out on an extremely close play at home plate for the third out. The fired-up Leopards sprinted back to their dugout, mobbing each other to celebrate the exciting defensive gem.
“That was the play of the game,” Stephenson said. “It gave us all the momentum.”
McMurtry agreed, adding: “That was really good. That was the turning point in some ways, because it kept the momentum.”
LOCKING IT DOWN: Temple College freshman right-hander Brian Shadrick (right) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning of the Leopards' 6-5 win over Weatherford in Saturday's first game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Shadrick, who played for Belton, earned the save in the opener and another save in TC's 9-6 victory over the Coyotes in the doubleheader finale. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Weatherford had two runners aboard with one out in the eighth when McMurtry again put Shadrick on the mound in another save situation. On his first pitch, Weil lined into a 6-4, inning-ending double play.
The Leopards tacked on a potentially important run in the eighth when Stephenson ripped a leadoff double into the corner in left and scored on Henry's triple down the line in right, making it 9-6.
A walk and an error in the ninth helped the Coyotes get some traffic on the bases against Shadrick in their final at-bat, bringing the tying run to the plate with one out. But Willis hit a fielder's-choice grounder and Rooney lined out to right as the unflappable Shadrick locked up Temple's second must-have victory.
“We played a great fall and then we started out hot this spring, so we know that we have the talent,” Shadrick said. “We just have to all put it together, and today we did that.”
McMurtry commended Diaz's performance and maturity after the strapping transfer caught 14 innings overall and went 4-for-4 with two RBI as TC completed its vital sweep.
“Sammy takes charge behind the plate," McMurtry said, "and I think he's pretty smart back there as far as calling pitches and understanding what the pitchers have and how he's going to use it."
The Leopards play Vernon (14-8, 3-1 NTJCAC) in a four-game conference series this coming week, beginning with Wednesday's noon doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex.
Northern Texas Junior College
Temple College 6, Weatherford 5
WC 200 003 0 – 5 5 2
TC 100 050 X – 6 8 3
WC: Kade Bragg, Hayden Alexander (5) and Bo Willis. TC: Ulises Quiroga, Mason Brandenberger (6), Brian Shadrick (6) and Sammy Diaz, Andruw Gonzales (6). W – Quiroga (4-0). L – Alexander (0-1). Save – Shadrick (2).
Highlights – TC: Quiroga eight strikeouts, five hits allowed in 5 2/3 innings; Ty Tilson 2-for-3, three runs batted in; David Wilson 2-for-4, RBI; Andre Jackson RBI single; Travis Chestnut two runs; WC: Bragg eight strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings (four strikeouts in fourth inning).
Temple College 9, Weatherford 6
WC 103 020 000 – 6 12 1
TC 200 240 01X – 9 13 4
WC: Caden Hawkins, Ben West (5), Bristol Carson (5), Hunter Estill (5), Devan Lindsey (5), Cade Farr (8) and Davis Shackelford. TC: Clay Bradford, Davis Pratt (3), Diego Fernandez (3), Jace Walker (7), Brian Shadrick (8) and Sammy Diaz. W – Fernandez (1-0). L – Carson (0-1). Save – Shadrick (3). HR – W: Brett Brown (4). 3B – TC: Clark Henry. 2B – W: Jacob Guerrero, Bo Willis, Brown; TC: Seth Stephenson 2, David Wilson, Diaz.
Highlights – TC: Diaz 4-for-4, two RBI, two runs; Stephenson 3-for-5, RBI, two runs; Wilson 3-for-5, RBI; Cole Payne two RBI; Henry RBI triple, run; Andre Jackson RBI, run; WC: Brown 3-for-4, three-run home run, two runs; Nathan Rooney 2-for-4, RBI; Guerrero 2-for-5, RBI, run.
Records – Temple 13-4 overall, 2-2 NTJCAC; Weatherford 16-8, 2-2.
Notes – Temple and Weatherford split their conference-opening four-game series; TC will host Vernon (14-8, 3-1) in an NTJCAC doubleheader at noon Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex.