STEPPING WAY UP: Aragon's bat, Pratt's relief pitching pace Game 2 comeback as No. 17 TC sweeps Hill
GOT HIM: Temple College freshman pitcher Davis Pratt strikes out Hill's Kade Brewer looking with a fastball in the ninth inning of the 17th-ranked Leopards' 6-5 comeback win over the Rebels in Wednesday afternoon's second game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Catching for TC is freshman Andruw Gonzales. The Leopards trailed 5-1 when Pratt relieved starter Kolby Wilson in the fifth. Pratt (2-0) retired all 13 batters he faced and struck out six as Temple improved to 36-9 overall and 19-7 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, good for a one-game lead over rival McLennan. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple College's baseball team has produced an outstanding season, leading the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference and rising as high as No. 12 in the NJCAA Division I national rankings.
Before Wednesday, however, first baseman Raul Aragon and relief pitcher Davis Pratt had played only modest roles in the Leopards' success. Aragon was batting .274 with one home run and 13 runs batted in while appearing in 25 of TC's 43 games, while Pratt was 1-0 with a 6.23 earned-run average in 8 2/3 innings across nine games.
But without the heroic performances provided by Aragon and Pratt against third-place Hill on a breezy Wednesday afternoon at Danny Scott Sports Complex, the 17th-ranked Leopards wouldn't be alone at the top of the NTJCAC standings.
After Seth Stephenson-led Temple pummeled Hill 15-3 in five innings in the doubleheader's first game to help pitcher Nathan Medrano notch his eighth win, the Leopards trailed the Rebels 5-1 in the fifth inning of the nine-inning finale. Although at that point a split seemed to be the day's most likely outcome, Aragon and Pratt refused to let Hill get out of town with a win.
Pratt racked up six strikeouts while pitching 4 1/3 perfect innings of relief, and Aragon delivered a run-scoring single during TC's three-run sixth before he launched the go-ahead solo home run in the eighth to help propel the Leopards to a dramatic 6-5 comeback victory to sweep the doubleheader.
“They always give you an opportunity. If you keep doing well, they're going to keep tossing you out there until you prove them wrong, basically,” said Pratt, who hadn't pitched since April 7 at Cisco.
The wins moved Temple to 36-9 overall, 19-7 in the NTJCAC for a one-game lead over rival McLennan (17-7, idle Wednesday) and 22-1 in its home ballpark.
“It was a nice dogfight. We were down through the fourth inning, but we knew we couldn't let down. We knew we had to fight back,” said Aragon, the second-year freshman who drove in three runs in the opening-game romp and added two vital RBI to highlight Temple's Game 2 rally. “As Coach (Craig McMurtry) always says, we've got to take care of our spots, so I do whatever I can to help the team out – base hits or whatever I've got to do.”
When second-year freshman Pratt relieved freshman starter Kolby Wilson with two outs in the fifth, TC trailed 5-1 and didn't possess any positive momentum. The right-hander got a flyout to escape the fifth-inning jam, then retired all 12 batters in the final four innings.
“At that point in the game, I just thought, 'Let's bring him in and see what we get out of him.' We were trying to keep it where it was at,” McMurtry said about Pratt. “Fortunately, he threw great. I don't know what else you could ask of him.”
And after the Leopards' dangerous offense erupted for five runs in the fifth through eighth innings to seize the 6-5 lead, Pratt (2-0) walked off the mound as the winning pitcher, something that seemed highly unlikely when he entered the game.
“I just knew that if I went in there and threw strikes that my defense behind me would do a good job and block everything,” said the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Pratt, who's from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and transferred to TC from Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix. “And I knew that our offense is fantastic, especially at home, so I knew they could come back and if I kept it right there we'd be good.”
Said Aragon about Pratt's clutch pitching: “He came in and did a great job. That's what we needed out of him. We needed him to throw a couple of innings and hold them.”
ARA-GONE: Second-year freshman first baseman Raul Aragon played a vital role in Temple College's doubleheader sweep of Hill on Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The Fort Worth Paschal product drove in three runs in the No. 17 Leopards' 15-3, five-inning win in Game 1, then in the finale Aragon hit an RBI single in the sixth and smashed the go-ahead solo home run in the eighth to help TC earn a 6-5 victory after having trailed 5-1 in the fifth. It was Aragon's second homer this season for the conference-leading Leopards. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The left-handed-hitting Aragon gets most of his playing time against right-handed starting pitchers, and Hill (28-16, 15-11) started two righties in Cade Stapleton in the opener and Kyle Mosley in the finale. Aragon contributed a two-run single, a sacrifice bunt and a run-scoring flyout in Game 1, then in the finale he delivered an RBI single and the difference-making homer for a five-RBI afternoon.
“All of our guys, honestly, they work really hard. This has been a good group as far as the way they put in time, and they really do work hard,” McMurtry said. “Raul got an opportunity to come in and start a couple games. We tell them, 'Hey, stay ready, work hard, and if you get an opportunity to get in there and get a couple hits, you're going to get back in there.'
“Not that you want to put pressure on them, but they understand that, 'Hey, if I go in and have some good at-bats . . .' Like (sophomore left fielder) Max Puls, he had been struggling but today he had (five) hits. Those kind of guys who get an opportunity, you hope they're successful just to show them and the other guys who aren't getting many at-bats, 'Hey, if I work hard and get an opportunity and get a couple of hits, maybe I'll get more opportunities.'”
The Leopards got a 4-for-4, five-RBI performance with a homer and a three-run triple from Tennessee-signed shortstop Stephenson in Game 1, and they produced 25 hits overall in the 12 innings in which they batted.
Temple and Hill will complete their four-game series Saturday with a noon doubleheader in Hillsboro, where second-year freshmen Ulises Quiroga (8-1) and Dylan Blomquist (4-1) will be the Leopards' starting pitchers as TC shoots for another key sweep. The Leopards will finish the regular season next week with a high-stakes four-game series against McLennan – Wednesday in Waco, Saturday in Temple.
“If we're going to try to do anything as far as having a chance to win conference, we've got to match what McLennan does this week (vs. eighth-place North Central Texas) or win at least three,” McMurtry said. “We still have to take care of business Saturday (at Hill). I told the guys, 'You can't look ahead to something else. You've got to take care of the games right in front of you. It doesn't do any good to look at MCC when you've got Hill sitting there, fighting for a playoff spot.'”
The Leopards are contending for the NTJCAC championship and the right to host one of two four-team Region V tournaments in mid-May, with a long-term goal of advancing to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“We want it bad. We're gunning for it, too,” Aragon said. “We're not going to let down.”
DOWN AND DIRTY: Temple College freshman Clark Henry slides across home plate to score on Raul Aragon's first-inning single as the incoming throw eludes Hill catcher Kade Hunter during Wednesday afternoon's doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. TC freshman Ty Tilson (20) also scored on Aragon's hit. Coach Craig McMurtry's Leopards grabbed a 15-3, five-inning win in Game 1, then charged back from a 5-1 deficit in the finale to defeat the Rebels 6-5 after Aragon's go-ahead solo home run in the eighth. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple's dynamic, balanced offense jumped all over Hill in the opening game that was scheduled for seven innings, but not before the Rebels did some damage against sophomore right-hander Medrano (8-3).
Carson Ogilvie drew a one-out walk in the top of the first, then with two outs rugged catcher Kade Hunter crushed a two-run home run to left field for the first of his two homers and four extra-base hits in the doubleheader.
The Leopards made a strong response in their first time at bat. Stephenson ripped a leadoff single, advanced on Joseph Redfield's sacrice bunt and scored on Ty Tilson's single inside the third base line, the first of three run-scoring hits by TC's freshman third baseman in the opener. After Clark Henry singled, Aragon lined a single to right field to drive in Tilson and Henry for a 3-2 Temple lead.
Houston signee Medrano settled down and struck out three in the next two innings, and the Leopards gave him ample support. With two outs in the second, Stephenson blasted a solo homer to left – his team-leading ninth homer this season – to make it 4-2, then Redfield walked and scored when Tilson clubbed a double to left for a 5-2 game.
TC gained more separation in the third, pouring on four runs to make it 9-2. Henry singled and scored on a Sammy Diaz single, then Puls singled and Travis Chestnut walked to load the bases for Stephenson. A fleet-footed prospect for July's Major League Baseball draft, Stephenson drove the ball into the right-center gap and cleared the bases with a three-run triple, pumping his arms and yelling toward the Leopards' dugout after sliding into third.
CLEARING THE BASES: Temple College freshman shortstop Seth Stephenson connects for a three-run triple during the third inning of the Leopards' 15-3, five-inning win over Hill in Wednesday's doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Sammy Diaz, Max Puls and Travis Chestnut scored on Stephenson's eighth triple this season. The Tennessee signee and Major League Baseball draft prospect was 4-for-4 in Game 1 with a solo home run (his team-high ninth), five runs batted in and three runs scored. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
“Definitely we all feed off of that,” Aragon said about Stephenson's plentiful highlight-reel plays. “We're glad that he's doing good and all of us feed off of that energy. And we make sure we take care of our spots in the lineup, just like he does.”
Hill made it 9-3 in the fourth when a Medrano pitch hit Kade Brewer with the bases loaded, but he retired Ulysus Rodriguez on a flyout to limit the damage.
Temple then blew the game open by exploding for six runs in the fourth. Belton graduate Blomquist singled and scored on Aragon's sacrifice fly, Stephenson and Redfield hit RBI singles and Tilson added another RBI double to cap the outburst for a 15-3 advantage.
A wipeout slider is one of Medrano's go-to pitches, and the transfer from NCAA Division II St. Edward's fittingly ended his four-hitter and team-high third complete game and TC's run-rule win in the fifth by striking out Hunter with a sharp-breaking slider.
After pitching a career-best six shutout innings in TC's vital home win over Grayson last Monday, Wilson retired Hill's first five batters in the nine-inning finale. However, the Rebels again jumped on top with the long ball as Scout Sanders slugged a homer to left in the second for a 1-0 lead.
The Leopards quickly answered in their half of the second. Blomquist walked against Texas-San Antonio commitment Mosley and scored when Henry ripped a double into the right-center gap. Henry tried to score on an Andruw Gonzales single, but center fielder Sanders made a perfect throw to Hunter, who tagged out a sliding Henry to keep the game tied 1-1.
Hill then made its move in the third. After Rodriguez walked and Preston King singled, Wilson struck out Ogilvie and Will Buchholz. But Hunter then hit a towering shot to left-center that just cleared the 375-foot marker on the fence for a three-run homer and a 4-1 Rebels lead.
A diving, backhanded stop and quick throw by second baseman Chestnut on Rodriguez's sharp grounder helped Wilson work around Sanders' leadoff double in the fourth, but Hill extended its lead to 5-1 in the fifth as Hunter drilled a double off the wall in right to drive in Ogilvie.
After Wilson walked Raul Lopez, McMurtry summoned Pratt from TC's bullpen and the lightly used righty escaped the threat by getting Sanders to fly out to center, the first of 13 consecutive Rebels that Pratt retired.
“I was thinking (Pratt) was going to hopefully get us out of that inning, and just see how he did after that. But it was tough to take him out. He was actually dealing out there,” McMurtry said. “He hasn't pitched a whole lot. His fastball's always had life, but he's had some command issues where he gets a little bit wild. And his breaking ball has been pretty inconsistent, to say the least. He's been working really hard and his last two or three bullpens have been really solid.”
ANSWERING THE CALL: Temple College second-year freshman Davis Pratt had pitched only 8 2/3 innings entering Wednesday, but the right-hander delivered 4 1/3 perfect innings with six strikeouts in relief of starter Kolby Wilson to help the 17th-ranked Leopards rally from a 5-1 deficit to beat Hill 6-5 and sweep an NTJCAC doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Making his first appearance since April 7, Pratt improved his record to 2-0 as first-place TC (36-9) moved to 19-7 in league play and 22-1 in its home ballpark. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple trimmed its deficit from four runs to three in the fifth. McNeese State-signed catcher Gonzales singled with one out, advanced on Mosley's wild pitch and scored when Puls lined a double to right. But Mosley dodged further damage, striking out Chestnut and hitting Stephenson before Hunter threw out would-be base stealer Stephenson at second.
Pratt pitched a perfect sixth with two strikeouts, then the Leopards produced their biggest inning to create a 5-5 deadlock. After Mosley hit Redfield to start the sixth, Austin Stubber relieved him and walked Tilson. Stubber then fielded Blomquist's sacrifice bunt attempt and tried to get the force out at third, but Stubber spiked his throw into the ground and into foul territory for a crucial error that allowed Redfield to score for a 5-3 game.
Henry struck out, but Aragon roped an RBI single to right to drive in Tilson. The Leopards gained the equalizer with two outs as Puls flared an RBI single into center, plating Blomquist for a new game at 5-5.
Hill got nothing going against Pratt in the seventh and eighth, which included three consecutive strikeouts on a variety of well-placed fastballs and effective changeups.
“His fastball had a lot of life, and the last couple of innings he threw some really good changeups and had those guys out in front of it,” McMurtry said.
Hill righty Naut Kragt (3-4) pitched a scoreless seventh, but in the eighth he couldn't solve the quandary of how to deal with the smooth-swinging Aragon. With one out, Aragon launched a majestic fly ball to right and it rode the wind well over the wall for his second homer this season to give the revived Leopards their first lead of Game 2 at 6-5.
“I was just looking to get on base and start something, and luckily I got a ball right inside, closed my eyes, swung and it flew,” Aragon said.
The Rebels needed one run in the ninth to keep the game going, but Pratt didn't even let them get one base runner. Carson Hawks grounded out and Brewer struck out looking on a fastball before Rodriguez's routine flyout to right, after which the Leopards converged on Pratt near the mound to celebrate his dominant relief performance and the comeback win that secured a doubleheader sweep.
“All my stuff was working, and it's really nice to have Druw behind the plate. He does a great job with pitch-calling and receiving and gives me a lot of confidence,” Pratt said. “It's always key to have confidence going in. Starting off I had a lot of confidence, especially because this team behind me is fantastic. The amount of runs we've scored at home has been just ridiculous, so I had faith that we had the sticks to get some runs.”
Northern Texas Junior College
No. 17 Temple College 15,
Hill 3 (5)
Hill 200 10 – 3 4 1
Temple 324 6X – 15 16 2
H: Cade Stapleton, Ryan Markwardt (3), Asher Finke (3) and Kade Hunter. TC: Nathan Medrano and Sammy Diaz. W – Medrano (8-3). L – Stapleton (4-4). HR – H: Hunter (10); TC: Seth Stephenson (9). 3B – TC: Stephenson. 2B – H: Hunter; TC: Tilson 2.
Highlights – TC: Medrano nine strikeouts in team-leading third complete game this season; Stephenson 4-for-4, three-run triple, five runs batted in, three runs; Tilson 3-for-4, three RBI, run; Raul Aragon 1-for-1, two-run single, three RBI; Diaz 2-for-3, RBI, two runs; Clark Henry 2-for-3, two runs; Max Puls 2-for-3, two runs; Joseph Redfield 1-for-2, walk, RBI, two runs; Travis Chestnut two runs; H: Hunter 2-for-3, two RBI, two runs; Carson Ogilvie 1-for-2, run; Kade Brewer RBI.
No. 17 Temple College 6,
Hill 013 010 000 – 5 6 1
Temple 010 013 01X – 6 9 0
H: Kyle Mosley, Austin Stubber (6), Naut Kragt (7) and Kade Hunter. TC: Kolby Wilson, Davis Pratt (5) and Andruw Gonzales. W – Pratt (2-0). L – Kragt (3-4). HR – H: Scout Sanders (9), Hunter (11); TC: Raul Aragon (2). 2B – H: Sanders, Hunter; TC: Clark Henry, Max Puls.
Highlights – TC: Pratt six strikeouts, no base runners allowed in 4 1/3 relief innings; Aragon 2-for-4, go-ahead solo home run in eighth inning, two runs batted in; Puls 3-for-4, two RBI; Gonzales 2-for-4, run; Henry RBI double; Dylan Blomquist two runs; Seth Stephenson 1-for-3, hit by pitch; H: Hunter 2-for-4, three-run home run in third, four RBI; Sanders 2-for-4, RBI, run; Preston King 2-for-4, run.
Records – Temple 36-9 overall, 19-7 in NTJCAC; Hill 28-16, 15-11.
Notes – Temple sweeps NTJCAC doubleheader, improves home record to 22-1 and takes one-game lead over second-place McLennan; TC and Hill will complete their four-game series Saturday with a noon doubleheader in Hillsboro.