North Central Texas head coach Erick Wright has been on the Lions’ staff 11 seasons, during which they never had swept a doubleheader at Temple College entering Tuesday afternoon.
However, the winds of change certainly blew at blustery Danny Scott Sports Complex, potentially sweeping away the Leopards’ opportunity to return to the postseason.
Kemuel Thomas’ three-run home run in the opener’s first inning set the North Central tone, a throwing error by catcher Hunter Torrez keyed the Lions’ three-run seventh for a 7-2 lead, and the Leopards’ four-run seventh wasn’t enough in a frustrating 7-6 loss.
More defensive mistakes in the finale put TC in an early 2-0 hole, but Reece Easterling pitched eight strong innings and the Leopards scratched across single runs in the eighth and ninth to force extra innings. Temple couldn’t take advantage of its new life, though, as North Central answered with a six-run 10th to prevail 8-2 and severely damage the Leopards’ playoff hopes.
“We didn’t play clean enough baseball, for sure. We just didn’t execute,” Temple 21st-year coach Craig McMurtry said after his team committed seven errors, five in Game 2 as the sixth-place Leopards (19-26) dropped to 11-15 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference with six league games left, starting with Friday’s pair at fourth-place North Central (25-15, 13-9) in Gainesville.
“We’ve struggled all year. It’s one of the toughest years I’ve had here. We needed to win a game or two today and three (this week). Our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to keep battling.”
The slow-starting Leopards built positive momentum with 3-1 series victories over fifth-place Weatherford and Vernon, but their resurgence hit a roadblock against much-improved North Central, which outplayed Temple by collecting 21 hits and committing only one error.
“We were hoping for a lot different than how it went,” said TC sophomore left fielder Tannor Fischer, who had four hits in the doubleheader. “We still think we have some sort of chance. We call ourselves the roaches, because we can’t be killed.”
Wright was extremely pleased by how his Lions handled their crucial road test.
“They did a great job of staying in the moment, getting clutch hits, pitchers getting outs and playing great defense,” Wright said. “When Temple tied it up (late in Game 2), we didn’t panic.”
North Central fired the first shot in the seven-inning opener when Thomas crushed a three-run homer to left into a swirling wind against TC sophomore right-hander Jesse Reed (2-5), and his run-scoring single in the third made it 4-0. The Leopards cut the deficit in half in the fourth on Fischer’s RBI single and Reid Dalrymple’s run-scoring grounder.
Thomas’ RBI infield single in the seventh made it 5-2, then disaster struck for Temple. With the bases loaded and one out, Spencer Bloom chopped a grounder to third baseman Dalton Watts. He threw home and got the force out, but Torrez’s hurried throw to first for a potential double play sailed high and down the line, allowing two runs to score for a 7-2 game.
“It could just be he’s tired. He’s been catching every game,” McMurtry said of Torrez, the sophomore catcher. “I’m sure it’s wearing on him behind the plate and batting.”
Breck Potvin’s two-run double and Jackson Molinaro’s RBI single highlighted Temple’s four-run response in the seventh to pull within 7-6, but Aaron Krueger fouled out to catcher and the Lions survived.
North Central seized control early in the finale, turning two errors into a first-inning run and going up 2-0 on Tanner Goodwin’s RBI double in the second. But Easterling then threw six scoreless innings to keep it close while fellow sophomore righty Spencer Sawin blanked the Leopards through seven.
TC made it 2-1 in the eighth when Potvin’s single plated Reid Hesse, then got the equalizer in the ninth when an errant throw on a potential game-ending double play skidded past first, scoring Fischer for a 2-2 deadlock.
Freshman Taylor Vaclavick (3-2) pitched a sharp ninth, but Watts’ throwing error in the 10th sparked North Central’s six-run barrage. Tyrese Clayborne’s RBI single made it 3-2 before two-run hits by Bloom and Josh Blankenship broke it open.