MEETING ON THE MOUND: Temple College head coach Craig McMurtry visits starting pitcher Nathan Medrano and catcher Sammy Diaz during the sixth inning of their doubleheader opener against North Central Texas on Tuesday afternoon at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The Leopards let their late 4-2 lead slip away but then grabbed a 5-4 walk-off win in the seventh, giving McMurtry his 700th victory in 23 seasons at TC. First-place Temple (20-4, 8-2) rolled to a 10-2 win in Game 2 for its fourth consecutive doubleheader sweep in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference competition. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Craig McMurtry likes talking about himself roughly as much as the former major league pitcher enjoys watching his pitchers walk leadoff batters – which is to say, not much at all.
So even after he earned his 700th win as Temple College's head baseball coach on a sunny, unusually calm Tuesday afternoon, McMurtry predictably deflected the credit for that impressive milestone toward his many players and assistant coaches who have helped him accomplish it during the last 23 years.
“I don't really like talking about myself. The biggest thing is the guys we've had here and the really good players who have been a part of this program,” said McMurtry, who secured win No. 700 when the first-place Leopards defeated North Central Texas 5-4 in walk-off style in the first game of a doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex, then added a 10-2 victory – No. 701 – to extend their conference winning streak to eight games. “It's not really about the coaches. It's more about recruiting really good players who have played really hard. That's what I've enjoyed.”
McMurtry praised the work of his assistant coaches, most notably longtime assistant head coach Frank Kellner, who's in his 19th season with TC and helped the Leopards gain Junior College World Series berths in 2006, 2010 and 2018.
“It's a lot of wins and it's nice, but it's not about me,” McMurtry reiterated. “Coach Kellner has had a huge hand in this. There's the different guys we've had as assistant coaches – Daniel Bartz, Eric Hester and going back to Eddie Cornblum. And now Coach (Nathan) Train is doing a really good job.”
A 1978 Troy graduate who pitched eight seasons in the major leagues from 1983-95, McMurtry was hired by then-athletic director Danny Scott in 1998 to lead TC on the diamond after the school decided to revive its baseball program – which had been dormant since the mid-1970s – for the 1999 season.
The 61-year-old McMurtry, who succeeded Scott as TC's athletic director in 2013, said he had no idea he was on the verge of the 700-win milestone. After Joseph Redfield's pinch-hit, run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Leopards a walk-off win over North Central in Tuesday's opener, Temple's players applauded McMurtry near the TC dugout. Their no-nonsense head coach didn't know what all the fuss was about until somebody let him in on the secret.
“I've loved playing for Coach Mac. He knows what he's talking about,” said Redfield, a speedy freshman outfielder from Waco Midway who was coached there by the aforementioned Cornblum. “I mean, sometimes we question his decisions, but it turns out that he's right every time. I'm thrilled for him that we got that (700th) win for him this year.”
COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH: Temple College freshman Joseph Redfield connects for a pinch-hit, run-scoring single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Leopards a 5-4 win over North Central Texas in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. It was the 700th victory with TC for head coach Craig McMurtry. Seth Stephenson (left) scored the winning run for the first-place Leopards (20-4, 8-2), who then won the finale 10-2 for their fourth straight doubleheader sweep in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play. Redfield had three hits in Game 2, including an RBI single that ended the game in the eighth inning. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
McMurtry became the second TC head coach in the last two school years to win 700 games. Men's basketball coach Kirby Johnson notched his 700th victory with the Leopards on Nov. 23, 2019 and finished with 715 wins in 33 seasons before he retired last year.
In Game 2 against North Central Texas, McMurtry and TC got a stellar pitching performance from second-year freshman left-hander Dylan Blomquist. The Belton graduate allowed only two hits in six innings and racked up nine strikeouts, and he received plenty of offensive support as the Leopards seized a 3-0 first-inning lead and added seven more runs before another RBI single from Redfield ended the game in the eighth inning on the run rule.
With the two victories, Temple recorded its fourth consecutive doubleheader sweep in Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play and extended its overall winning streak to nine games. At 20-4 overall and 8-2 in the NTJCAC for the outright lead entering Wednesday, McMurtry certainly likes the way the Leopards are playing but he cautioned that they need to remain hungry and focused on making all-around improvements.
“We haven't had a record that good (through 24 games), so it's a good start. My challenge to the guys is to not get complacent,” McMurtry said. “You look up and you're 8-2 in conference, which is really good. But we've got to clean up stuff like hitting with runners in scoring position, walks and making critical errors. The big speech I made to the guys was that we're in a good spot but not even close to where we need to be.”
Temple got off to a rough start in the doubleheader's seven-inning opener. After Nathan Medrano pitched a three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in the Leopards' 6-0 home win over Vernon last Wednesday, the sophomore right-hander saw his first pitch against the Lions (11-11, 1-5 NTJCAC) sail over the fence in left-center field for a Rance Rosas solo home run.
Medrano then walked Chase Cromer before Nixon Brannan hit a sinking line drive that diving left fielder Clark Henry couldn't catch, giving Brannan what appeared to be an RBI double. However, Medrano got a key reprieve when the Leopards appealed the play and Cromer was ruled out because he never touched home plate. North Central still managed to take a 2-0 lead when a two-out passed ball by catcher Sammy Diaz allowed Brannan to score.
Temple sliced its deficit in half in the second inning thanks to the Lions' defensive struggles. Shortstop Cromer dropped Ty Tilson's leadoff popup, then a pickoff throw from left-handed pitcher Arturo Ramirez bounced off the glove of first baseman Kalen Clark, sending Tilson all the way to third. Diaz lined a one-out RBI single into right to make it 2-1.
The Leopards grabbed their first lead at 3-2 in the third. Andre Jackson hit a one-out single but was thrown out by left fielder Rosas on an aggressive attempt to reach third base on Seth Stephenson's single. After Henry reached on the second baseman's error and stole second, freshman cleanup hitter Tilson made North Central pay by ripping a two-run single to center to give Temple the one-run lead.
After Houston signee Medrano faced only two batters above the minimum in the second through fifth innings, the Leopards' advantage grew to 4-2 in the fifth when second-year freshman shortstop and Tennessee signee Stephenson socked a solo homer – his team-leading third this season – to left.
The Lions made it a one-run game with two outs in the sixth when Robert Serfass launched a solo homer just to the left of the tall wall in center. Medrano then got a groundout to finish his six-inning outing with six strikeouts and three hits allowed.
McMurtry turned to second-year freshman closer Brian Shadrick to save TC's win in the seventh, but North Central had other ideas and the sidearm/submarine pitcher from Belton wasn't as sharp as he'd been in recent weeks. Shadrick got a flyout but then walked pinch hitter Trevor Magnuson, who advanced to second when second baseman Travis Chestnut made a diving stop and threw out Sam Haigwood at first.
Shadrick and the Leopards were one out away from securing McMurtry's 700th victory, but Rosas struck again when he ripped a single to right. Like Chestnut, Blomquist had entered the game as a late-inning defensive replacement. Blomquist charged the hard-hit ball with the intention of throwing out Magnuson at the plate for the game's final out, but the ball scooted under his glove and skidded past him. Magnuson scored on the RBI single and Rosas raced around to third on the two-base error.
Shadrick (2-0) and TC avoided falling behind 5-4 when Chestnut made another sharp play, fielding Cromer's chopper up the middle and throwing him out on a close play at first.
That set the stage for the Leopards' winning seventh. Jackson drove a leadoff double to right-center off reliever Angelo Cabral and tried to score the winning run on Stephenson's single to left, but Rosas delivered another clutch play by throwing out Jackson at the plate for the first out as Stephenson moved to second.
McMurtry then inserted the left-handed-hitting Redfield as a pinch hitter for Henry in the No. 3 slot. Redfield already had growing confidence after batting .529 with three triples and 10 RBI in last week's four-game sweep of Vernon, earning him the NTJCAC's player of the week award. His mission to drive in the winning run became easier when Stephenson – whom McMurtry and Kellner say is the fastest runner they've had at TC – stole third with one out.
“Really I'm thinking I just need to get a ball in play, and if anything just try to get a pop fly deep enough to score Seth, because Seth's a really fast runner and anything in the outfield scores him. He can fly,” Redfield said about his plan of attack.
With two strikes and the infield drawn in, Redfield ripped Cabral's high fastball to left for an opposite-field single that drove in Stephenson for the winning run. The Leopards charged out to congratulate Redfield on his walk-off hit, right before they gathered to applaud McMurtry on victory No. 700.
“I really was seeing the ball well (last week). I really feel like it came down to my extra work with Coach Kellner on the side,” the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Redfield, who's batting .431 with 20 RBI in 16 games, said of his recent hot streak. “He really helped me see the ball and visualize how the ball should go off my bat. That's helped me out this past week.”
Said McMurtry: “Redfield's swinging it great. The biggest thing is he just puts the ball in play, sometimes really hard. And he's fast and gets down the line.”
After allowing six runs in 3 1/3 innings in TC's windswept 21-13 win over Vernon last Wednesday, Blomquist (2-0) rebounded with a strong performance in the doubleheader finale against North Central, shutting out the Lions for five innings before they got a run in the sixth.
“Dylan threw really well and had his fastball, curve and changeup working,” McMurtry said.
Blomquist escaped some first-inning trouble. He walked leadoff man Rosas before Cromer reached on a fielder's-choice grounder. After Blomquist struck out Brannan with a sharp curveball, Clark lined a single that ricocheted off of the pitcher's foot. The ball caromed toward first base, and when Cromer tried to advance to third, hustling second baseman Chestnut threw a one-hop strike to Tilson, who tagged Cromer for the third out.
Blomquist and the Leopards got all the offensive production they would need in the first. Jackson hit a leadoff single off righty Otto Stacey (3-3), who then hit Stephenson and Henry with pitches to load the bases with no outs. TC's first two runs scored when the shortstop made an errant throw to second on Tilson's RBI grounder, then Redfield bunted for a single before Chestnut – who's batting .404 with 18 steals – drove in Henry with a sacrifice fly to deep center for a 3-0 advantage.
Marcus Mott pitched the seventh and Diego Fernandez the eighth for Temple, which got Henry's first homer of the season and tacked on single runs in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. The Leopards scored two runs in the eighth, ending the game one inning early on an RBI single by Redfield for the freshman's second walk-off hit of the day.
“All the extra work we all put in as a team, I think that's really what's contributing to our wins. It's totally a team effort,” said Redfield, who was 3-for-5 in Game 2 for a four-hit afternoon. “We're doing a great job of being able to come in, knowing that we all have a chance of playing during the game.”
Temple and North Central will play another doubleheader at noon Saturday in Gainesville.
Northern Texas Junior College
Temple College 5,
North Central Texas 4
N. Central 200 001 1 – 4 4 3
Temple 012 010 1 – 5 9 2
NCTC: Arturo Ramirez, Skyler Yarborough (5), Angelo Cabral (6) and Nixon Brannan. TC: Nathan Medrano, Brian Shadrick (7) and Sammy Diaz. W – Shadrick (2-0). L – Cabral (0-3). HR – NCTC: Rance Rosas (5), Robert Serfass (4); TC: Seth Stephenson (3). 2B – NCTC: Brannan; TC: Ty Tilson, Andre Jackson.
Highlights – TC: Craig McMurtry records his 700th win as TC's head coach; Joseph Redfield game-winning, pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh inning; Stephenson 3-for-4, three runs, RBI; Medrano six strikeouts; Tilson 2-for-3, two RBI, run; Jackson 2-for-4; Diaz RBI single; NCTC: Rosas 2-for-3, two RBI (tying RBI single in seventh), run.
Temple College 10,
North Central Texas 2 (8)
N. Central 000 001 01 – 2 2 2
Temple 311 011 12 – 10 9 2
NCTC: Otto Stacey, Skyler Yarborough (6), Ulsis Tovar (8) and Nixon Brannan. TC: Dylan Blomquist, Marcus Mott (7), Diego Fernandez (8) and Andruw Gonzales. W – Blomquist (2-0). L – Stacey (3-3). HR – TC: Clark Henry (1).
Highlights – TC: Blomquist nine strikeouts, two hits allowed in six innings; Joseph Redfield 3-for-5, run batted in; Clay Bradford 2-for-4, RBI, run; Andre Jackson 2-for-5, run; Travis Chestnut two RBI, run; Henry two runs, RBI; Seth Stephenson, Ty Tilson two runs each.
Records – Temple 20-4 overall, 8-2 in NTJCAC; North Central Texas 11-11, 1-5.
Notes – Temple sweeps NTJCAC doubleheader and extends its conference winning streak to eight games and its overall winning streak to nine games; North Central Texas hosts Temple in a doubleheader at noon Saturday in Gainesville.