THAT'S MORE LIKE IT: Sharp pitching, defense, hitting give first-place TC two vital wins vs. Grayson
TWO-WAY STANDOUT: Temple College second-year freshman Dylan Blomquist had a productive all-around day Monday afternoon to help the Leopards sweep Grayson in a doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex. In Game 1, the left-handed Belton graduate pitched a complete game and scattered eight hits as the 18th-ranked TC battered the Vikings 11-1 in six innings. Serving as the Leopards' designated hitter in Game 2, Blomquist went 2-for-4 with a double and scored a run as Temple prevailed 4-0. He pushed his pitching record to 4-0 as the first-place Leopards moved to 31-8 overall, 18-1 at home and 14-6 against Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference competition. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
The baseball games that Temple College played last Thursday and Saturday at Grayson were not symbolic of how the Leopards have played throughout what's been an outstanding season.
TC couldn't get any offense going and its defense committed six errors while losing the series opener 5-0 in Denison, then when the rain-delayed second game resumed two days later the Leopards squandered a ninth-inning lead by allowing two runs in the Vikings' 6-5, walk-off win.
According to Temple freshman left fielder and designated hitter Clark Henry, the conference-leading Leopards were extremely determined to make amends for those abnormal performances when Grayson invaded Danny Scott Sports Complex for a pivotal doubleheader Monday afternoon.
“We knew these two (games) were important. We haven't lost a series all year and we told ourselves, 'We're not going to start here,'” Henry said. “We just knew that our pitchers have pitched well in this series and we just needed to get the bats going. And that's what we did.”
Belton graduate Dylan Blomquist pitched a sharp complete game and Henry slugged a home run and a walk-off two-run double as No. 18-ranked Temple dominated Grayson 11-1 in six innings in the doubleheader opener, then in the finale Kolby Wilson and Diego Fernandez combined for a masterful four-hit shutout and Raul Aragon's two-run single keyed TC's three-run second inning as the Leopards seized a 4-0 win to sweep the twinbill and earn a vital split of the four-game series.
“Pretty much the team talk was just to be ourselves,” said Blomquist, the second-year freshman left-hander who frustrated the Vikings' lineup in Game 1 and then produced two hits and scored a run as Temple's designated hitter in Game 2. “In those last two games (at Grayson) we beat ourselves by making uncharacteristic mistakes and little errors here and there. But today we really showed the team we are. When you play great defense and have great pitching, that can take us pretty far.”
Head coach Craig McMurtry's Leopards improved to 31-8 overall, 18-1 at home and 14-6 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, good for a one-game lead over rival McLennan and a two-game lead over third-place Weatherford.
“Yes, it was very big,” McMurtry, whose team is trying to earn the right to host a four-team regional tournament in May, said about the sweep. “First of all, you obviously don't want to lose. But getting that second win today was big because it puts us at 14 wins with 12 to go and that puts us in a good position. We've got a lot of work to do with the teams we're fixing to play, but at least we're sitting at 14 wins and not still sitting at 12.”
With four-games series remaining against league foes Ranger, Hill and McLennan, Temple continues to push toward the NTJCAC championship, one of its long-range goals. Another huge one is advancing to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“That's something we've talked about every day since the fall, that we want to come out on top and we want to be the best team in the conference,” Henry said. “Not only the best team in the conference, but we want to go to Grand Junction. That's what we've been working toward every day.”
WELCOME HOME: Temple College's Cole Payne (12) congratulates Clark Henry after Henry hit a solo home run during the first inning of the Leopards' 11-1, six-inning win over Grayson in Monday's doubleheader opener at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Sophomore first baseman Payne scored two runs in the game, while freshman designated hitter Henry went 3-for-4 with two doubles, including a walk-off two-run double in the bottom of the sixth. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Traditional conference power Grayson, which has won three national championships and captured its last NTJCAC title in 2019, dropped to 24-15 overall and 12-12 in league play. The Vikings produced only one run – Isaac Webb's fifth-inning homer in Game 2 – in 15 innings against Blomquist (4-0), Wilson (3-0) and Fernandez and were limited to four hits in the nine-inning finale.
After last week's rough setbacks at Grayson, McMurtry got the response he was looking for from his Leopards as they buried those bad memories.
“We gave a game away up at their place (Saturday), which was very disappointing. We were winning 5-4 in the ninth inning and gave up two runs in a walk-off (loss),” McMurtry said. “You look at those things, but you can't as far as the what-ifs and should-haves and all that stuff. You don't want to let those kind of games come back to haunt you at the end of the season when you're looking at how it went as far as making the playoffs, not making the playoffs, winning conference, not winning conference, whatever.”
Blomquist started last Thursday's second game at Grayson but pitched only one inning before rain washed out the rest of that day's play with the teams tied 2-2. When the game resumed Saturday in Denison, second-year freshman righty ace Ulises Quiroga took over and pitched well for 7 1/3 innings into the ninth but suffered his first loss after winning his first eight decisions.
Back on the mound for Monday's scheduled seven-inning opener, Blomquist walked Grayson leadoff batter Blake Rambusch in the top of the first inning but got out of it by getting a 5-4-3 double play, the first of three double plays TC turned in support of the 6-foot-3, 180-pound southpaw.
Temple wasted little time in building a lead that Blomquist could work with. Seth Stephenson drew a leadoff walk against freshman lefty Beau Leonards (4-1), stole second base and raced to third on Jackson Sioson's deep flyout to right field before on Ty Tilson's sacrifice fly to deep right for a 1-0 Leopards advantage. Henry then clobbered a homer, his fifth this season, to left for a 2-0 game.
Davis Powell led off the Vikings' second with a sharp single, but Blomquist induced a 6-4-3 double play before striking out Hunter Watson with an outside-corner fastball, then struck out two in the third.
TC doubled its lead in the third. Jacob Elizondo ripped a leadoff single and stole second, then Tennessee signee Stephenson smoked a grounder that glanced off the glove of sprawling third baseman Watson and skidded well down the line in foul territory. Elizondo scored as Stephenson, the speedy second-year freshman shortstop, legged out an RBI triple. A Leonards wild pitch then brought Stephenson in for a 4-0 lead.
Grayson threatened to get back in the game in the fourth, as Yanluis Ortiz, Powell and Jesse Pierce hit consecutive singles to load the bases with one out. But Blomquist got tough when he needed to, retiring Watson on a weak popup before Luke Finn lined out to second baseman Elizondo for a clutch escape.
“I thought Dylan did a great job,” McMurtry said. “He was pitching behind (in the count) most of the day, it seemed like, but he found ways to get out of trouble and get outs.”
The Leopards continued to expand their lead in the fourth, producing three runs to make it 7-0. After Cole Payne walked, sophomore catcher Sammy Diaz crushed a two-run homer to left-center on Leonards' final pitch. With two outs, lefty Jakob Berger walked Elizondo and allowed an infield single to Stephenson before Sioson shot an RBI single to center.
Blomquist ran into some resistance in the fifth. After freshman center fielder Joseph Redfield made a diving, backhanded catch of Stacey Bailey's liner to left-center, Webb launched a homer to left-center for what proved to be the Vikings' lone run of the day. The Auburn-committed Rambusch and Wade Elliott followed with singles, but after receiving a mound visit from McMurtry, Blomquist got a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
“For me, (the key) was staying relaxed. When I get myself in trouble, I get real tense and don't allow myself to work,” said Blomquist, who scattered eight hits, had five strikeouts and lowered his earned-run average to 3.48 in 33 2/3 innings. “It's just staying relaxed and using my two-seam (fastball) away to my advantage.
“I've had better moments (pitching this season). I'd say today my control wasn't where it I wanted it to be with command of the strike zone. I made a few mistakes, and the mistakes I did make, they hit. But I thought it was a decent outing.”
Henry bashed a double to left-center to lead off the fifth and scored on Payne's RBI single to center. With two outs, Andre Jackson rocked a double off the fence in right-center. He was thrown out at third while going for a triple, but not before Payne crossed home plate on the RBI double for a 9-1 lead.
Blomquist dominated Grayson in the sixth, getting a groundout before he struck out Pierce with a fastball and Watson with a sharp-breaking curve. The Belton product didn't know it at the time, but he wouldn't have to throw another pitch to notch his first complete game.
SWINGING A HOT BAT: Temple College left fielder/designated hitter Clark Henry continued to be a major producer in the Leopards' doubleheader sweep of Grayson on Monday at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The 6-foot, 195-pound Houston Memorial graduate and Angelina College transfer was 4-for-8 with three runs batted in. Henry's walk-off two-run double that sealed TC's 11-1, six-inning win in Game 1 was his third game-ending hit in 10 days. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
That's because Temple scored two runs in its sixth to stop the game an inning early on the 10-run rule. Former Georgetown teammates Sioson and Tilson worked two-out walks, then cleanup batter Henry rocketed a ball that the right fielder was unable to catch near the wall. Both runners raced home to complete the 11-1 win as Henry delivered his third walk-off hit in 10 days. He had game-ending hits in both Leopards victories against Cisco on April 10.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Henry played at Angelina last season, then transferred to TC after the Lufkin junior college paused its athletic program this school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Houston Memorial product is batting .413 with 33 runs batted in after a 4-for-8, three-RBI day and paces the Leopards in slugging percentage.
“Just hunt the fastball and try not to get down in counts,” Henry said about his hitting philosophy. “Honestly, my teammates make it easy. They get on base and put me in a good spot, and that's it. I feel like I've developed really well here. The coaching staff really trusted me. They kind of let me do my own thing. They have a lot of faith in me, and that's where my success has been.”
Added McMurtry about Henry's impressive production: “He was really good in the fall, and he just has a knack for finding the barrel. He's been very consistent. It's tough to get him out of the lineup. We haven't gotten him out of the lineup.”
Hungry for a sweep of the doubleheader and a split of the series, McMurtry and Temple handed the ball to Wilson for the nine-inning finale. The freshman right-hander from Palacios entered with a 7.71 ERA and had permitted 18 hits in only 9 1/3 innings, but Wilson rose to the challenge and delivered the best performance of his brief college career.
“I felt good coming in,” said Wilson, who mixed his fastball, curveball and an off-speed split-fingered pitch. “The infielders were there for me. I just had to throw low strikes and let (Grayson's batters) roll over, the infielders did their jobs and our defense made some plays, like Clay (Bradford throwing out a runner at home plate from right field).
“(Last week) Coach Mac had me sit behind (home plate) watching Grayson, and they couldn't really hit off-speed that well. So I just kept it low and mixed it up really well.”
Wilson, who lowered his ERA to 4.70, set the tone with a perfect first inning, and an infield error accounted for the Vikings' only runner in the first two frames.
CAREER DAY: Temple College freshman right-hander Kolby Wilson delivers a pitch to a Grayson batter Monday afternoon during Game 2 of a conference doubleheader at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Wilson (3-0) entered the day having pitched only 9 1/3 innings this season, but he threw six innings and allowed four hits as he combined with sophomore lefty Diego Fernandez on a shutout as the 18th-ranked Leopards defeated the Vikings 4-0. Temple (31-8 overall) improved to 14-6 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference and leads second-place McLennan by one game. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
In the second, the Leopards generated the only runs they would need against hard-throwing Gunner Morris, Grayson's 6-6, 255-pound freshman righty who struck out nine. Henry lined a leadoff single to left, then Blomquist ripped a double down the line in right. Aragon then shot a single through the right side to drive in both runners for a 2-0 Temple lead.
Bradford's sacrifice bunt moved Aragon to third with one out and Elizondo lined out to right fielder Pierce, with Aragon tagging up and challenging Pierce's arm. His throw was strong but catcher Rambusch had to venture at least 10 feet up the third base line to catch it. Rambusch quickly turned and tried to apply a swipe tag as Aragon buzzed past him, but the plate umpire ruled that Rambusch missed him before Aragon slid in for a 3-0 game. Grayson's catcher vigorously argued the call, but it stood.
Wilson stranded two runners in the third, striking out Ortiz looking with a fastball. Webb doubled with two outs in the fourth and Nick Vernars singled to right, but Bradford charged it and fired an in-the-air strike to catcher Andruw Gonzales, who tagged out Webb to preserve the shutout as TC's players celebrated the dramatic play.
Wilson had a hand in yet another TC defensive gem. After Dax Dathe singled to lead off Grayson's fifth, Wilson then jumped and snagged Cade Webber's high chopper and threw to Stephenson at second to start a well-executed 1-6-3 double play. Stephenson then athletically fielded Elliott's grounder in the hole and threw across to first, where Aragon scooped the ball out of the dirt.
“It was very good defense. The double play that Kolby turned, that was a tough play and he made it look really easy,” McMurtry said. “Seth made that play in the hole and Raul picked that ball at first, Redfield made a diving catch in the gap and another up against the wall (in center in the ninth) and Bradford throws a guy out at the plate with a rocket. And Elizondo got thrown into the mix (filling in for injured freshman sesond baseman Travis Chestnut) and did a nice job. Overall, it really solid defense.”
Wilson allowed four hits and had three strikeouts in six innings before turning the ball over to Fernandez for the final three scoreless frames.
STEPPING UP: With Temple College needing to beat Grayson in Monday afternoon's doubleheader finale to split the conference rivals' four-game series, freshman right-hander Kolby Wilson (3-0) pitched six innings of four-hit ball to help the Leopards earn a 4-0 win over the Vikings at Danny Scott Sports Complex. The 6-foot, 190-pound Palacios product benefited from several outstanding defensive plays by TC, including his leaping snag of a fifth-inning grounder that turned into a 1-6-3 double play. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
“It's rewarding knowing that those guys went out there and did a really good job as far as changing speeds and keeping Grayson off-balance,” McMurtry said. “Kolby was throwing his split and his curveball, and his fastball had a little hop. He had the split in high school and he's carried it over here. It gets them out front, and he got a lot of popups and fly balls with guys reaching or swinging over it. It was very effective.”
Temple tallied an insurance run in the sixth. Aragon struck out swinging but reached first on a wild pitch in the dirt, advanced on a groundout and scored on Bradford's hard grounder through the middle for an RBI single.
“We definitely came back today and we're proud that everybody was hitting the ball when we needed it,” Wilson said. “We put in some extra work yesterday on Sunday, and I guess it paid off.”
Finesse left-hander Fernandez was outstanding in relief, hurling three hitless innings with three strikeouts. In the ninth, Redfield's leaping catch against the tall wall in center and Stephenson's skillful over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left-center helped Fernandez secure his second save as Temple notched its important doubleheader sweep and series split.
“(Grayson) only scored one run. They did their job,” Henry said of the Leopards' three pitchers. “We just knew that if we got some guys in scoring situations that we'd come out on top, and that's what happened.”
The Leopards will begin their four-game NTJCAC series against Ranger by hosting a doubleheader at noon Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex.
TURNING ON IT: Temple College freshman and Belton graduate Dylan Blomquist rips a pitch by Grayson's Gunner Morris for a double down the right field line during the second inning of the 18th-ranked Leopards' 4-0 win over the Vikings in Monday's second game at Danny Scott Sports Complex. Blomquist pitched a complete game in TC's 11-1, six-inning victory in Game 1, then contributed two hits and scored a run at designated hitter in the series finale. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Northern Texas Junior College
No. 18 Temple College 11,
Grayson 1 (6)
Grayson 000 010 – 1 8 0
Temple 202 322 – 11 10 0
G: Beau Leonards, Jakob Berger (4) and Yanluis Ortiz. TC: Dylan Blomquist and Sammy Diaz. W – Blomquist (4-0). L – Leonards (4-1). HR – G: Isaac Webb (2); TC: Clark Henry (5), Diaz (2). 3B – TC: Seth Stephenson. 2B – TC: Henry 2, Andre Jackson.
Highlights – TC: Blomquist five strikeouts in complete game; Henry 3-for-4, game-ending two-run double, three runs batted in, two runs; Stephenson 2-for-3, RBI triple, walk, two runs; Diaz two-run home run; Jackson Sioson RBI single, walk, run; Jacob Elizondo 1-for-2, two runs; Jackson RBI double; Cole Payne 1-for-2, RBI single, walk, two runs; Ty Tilson RBI, run; G: Webb 2-for-2, RBI, run; Davis Powell 2-for-3.
No. 18 Temple College 4,
Grayson 000 000 000 – 0 4 2
Temple 030 001 00X – 4 8 2
G: Gunner Morris, Clayton Broeder (7) and Blake Rambusch. TC: Kolby Wilson, Diego Fernandez (7) and Andruw Gonzales. W – Wilson (3-0). L – Morris (1-3). Sv – Fernandez (2). 2B – G: Isaac Webb; TC: Dylan Blomquist.
Highlights – TC: Wilson three strikeouts, four hits allowed in six innings; Fernandez three strikeouts, no hits allowed in three innings; Raul Aragon 2-for-3, two RBI, walk, two runs; Blomquist 2-for-3, run; Joseph Redfield 2-for-4; Clay Bradford RBI single; Jacob Elizondo RBI; G: Morris nine strikeouts in six innings.
Records – Temple 31-8 overall, 14-6 in NTJCAC; Grayson 24-15, 12-12.
Notes – Temple sweeps NTJCAC doubleheader, splits four-game series with Grayson; Temple begins four-game series vs. Ranger (14-28, 8-12) with home doubleheader at noon Wednesday at Danny Scott Sports Complex.