TC baseball

Temple College’s Caleb Hill dives into second base ahead of the throw to McLennan’s Izzy Lopez (5) during a doubleheader Wednesday.

Riding its longest winning streak since conference play began in early March, Temple College ran into a couple obstacles Wednesday, starting with the hot pitching of rival McLennan.

At a windy Danny Scott Sports Complex where 20-plus mph inward gusts kept the ball harnessed most of the day, the Highlanders’ hurlers also kept the Leopards’ bats in check as Temple College dropped a pair of close losses to the Northern Junior College Athletic Conference leaders and defending NJCAA national champions.

First, MCC (34-9-1, 19-3) got a complete-game shutout from Will Carsten in a 4-0 win in Game 1 to snap the Leopards’ five-game winning stretch, after which the Highlanders narrowly escaped a fervent Temple College (26-17, 9-13) comeback attempt in a 2-1 decision in the end-cap.

“A good team like them, they don’t beat themselves and they find a way to make plays,” said Temple College head coach Craig McMurtry, whose team got an RBI-single from Raithen Malone to cut the gap in half with two outs in the ninth of Game 2, only to have MCC’s Elijah Rodriguez steal a hit away from pinch hitter Hogan Heller on the next play to end the game.

“That play there was obviously a game-changer as far as tying the game up,” McMurtry said. “It’s a tough way to lose but we didn’t give ourselves many opportunities offensively. We didn’t have many guys on base. It was just one of those deals where somebody’s got to find a way to get a timely hit. They got a couple of hits and we make an error to give them that second run, which really hurt.”

Down 2-0 in the ninth, Kyle Gates drew a one-out walk to get things started for Temple College. Gates advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored the Leopards’ lone run of the day when Malone softly grounded an opposite-field single through the right side off MCC reliever Nick Greaney.

Malone was then awarded second base on a Greaney balk, moving the potential tying run into scoring position for Heller, who worked the count full before driving a sinking liner into shallow left field that the Highlanders’ Elijah Rodriguez came in on and dived to his left, laying out to grab the ball just before it hit the grass.

“Off the bat, I knew I was going to dive. I just knew I had to make the play,” Rodriguez said. “We were playing in a little bit and I got the opportunity and it worked out.”

It was one of a few solid defensive plays for MCC, which committed no errors all day and got seven innings of three-hit ball from starter Devin Bennett, who struck out eight in picking up the win. Greaney went the final two frames for the save.

Temple College had just four base runners through the first four innings and left seven runners on over the final five frames.

The Highlanders pushed a run across on a Daniel Altman RBI-single in the third, then added a key insurance run in the eighth on a two-out throwing error by second baseman Travis Chestnut. The Leopards got a pair of two-out singles from Chestnut and Caleb Hill in the eighth, but Greaney got Zane Spinn to fly out to left for the final out.

“You knew, today, with the wind blowing in, it was going to be a pitching/defense day,” said McLennan head coach Mitch Thompson, whose team extended its winning streak to 10 games. “Our starting pitching was outstanding and we made all the plays on defense, even the last out of the game, Elijah makes the diving catch to kind of save the day.”

Gates had Temple College’s only two hits through the first five innings of Game 2, finishing 2-for-2 with a walk and run to pace his team on offense. Hill also added a pair of singles.

In earlier action, the Leopards had little success solving Carsten in the opener. The 6-foot-7 right-hander — who won 10 games in the Highlanders’ national championship season last year — surrendered just three singles while striking out nine and walking none in an 87-pitch performance.

Carsten allowed a Hill single to center field on the second batter he faced, then retired the next 15 Leopards’ hitters, including striking out the side in the third.

McLennan built a four-run lead in that time, getting the bulk of it in the second when Izzy Lopez and Marquis Jackson ripped back-to-back, two-out singles to open up a 3-0 lead.

Temple College starter Mason Bryant settled down in the middle innings, setting down the Highlanders in order in the third, fourth and fifth to keep his team in the game. Bryant took the loss while striking out six, walking two and giving up seven hits in six innings.

The Highlanders tacked on a run in the sixth with an Altman sacrifice fly to left before the Leopards finally got to Carsten with one out in the bottom half of the frame when Gates and Chestnut put together back-to-back singles.

Carsten, though, promptly picked off Gates at first for the second out then got Hill to fly out to Rodriguez in left, leaving Chestnut stranded on first.

The Leopards went down in order in the seventh as Carsten got Colby Christian to fly out to center fielder Ty Johnson for the final out.

The two rivals will complete their four-game set with a noon doubleheader in Waco on Saturday.

NTJCAC

Game 1

McLennan 4, Temple College 0

MCC    030    001    0    —    4    7    0

TC    000    000    0    —    0    3    2

Carsten and Bard. Bryant, Hendricks (7) and Banister and Williams (7). W—Carsten. L—Bryant. 2B—M: Halligan.

Records — McLennan 33-9-1, 18-3; Temple College 26-16, 9-12.

Game 2

McLennan 2, Temple College 1

MCC    001    000        010    —    2    9    0

TC    000    000        001    —    1    6    2

Bennett, Greaney (8) and Hawkins. Tourney, Brandenberger (6) and Williams. W—Bennett. L—Tourney. 2B—M: Halligan, Rodriguez.

Records — McLennan 34-9-1, 19-3; Temple College 26-17, 9-13.