AUSTIN — Craig McMurtry’s Wednesday started in a most frustrating fashion when Temple College’s baseball coach discovered that somebody had broken into the Leopards’ field at Danny Scott Sports Complex and used a hose to drench the infield, an act of vandalism that rendered it unplayable for their scheduled doubleheader against Vernon.
Concordia University Texas coach, McMurtry’s friend and fellow former major league pitcher Tommy Boggs offered to let Temple use Tornado Field, and the gracious Leopards made themselves feel right at home in Game 1 as they rode four multi-run innings and Jesse Reed’s complete-game pitching to an 11-1, six-inning win.
But McMurtry’s day took another negative turn in the finale’s third inning. The Leopards already trailed 6-0 when he was ejected for vehemently arguing the umpire’s call that TC catcher Hunter Torrez illegally blocked home plate while tagging a runner out.
However, McMurtry’s act of defiance was timed perfectly and exactly what the Leopards needed to break out of their doldrums.
“It fired us up,” said Breck Potvin, TC’s sophomore second baseman and leadoff batter.
Vernon’s Byron Ross then blasted a three-run home run in the third for a commanding 9-0 lead, but Temple exploded for seven runs in the fifth against the error-plagued Chaparrals, scored the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh and used stellar relief pitching by Taylor Vaclavick and Diego Fernandez to come all the way back for a riveting 10-9 victory.
The sweep on a sunny, windswept afternoon gave TC (18-23, 10-12 conference) a five-game winning streak in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, pulling the Leopards within two games of fourth-place North Central Texas (11-9) for the final NJCAA Region V Tournament berth.
Following last year’s improbable late-season charge to reach the regional and the Junior College World Series, and after rallying from an 8-3 deficit to beat Weatherford 9-8 for a crucial series win last Friday, Temple seemingly plays its best when its backs are against the proverbial wall.
“That’s exactly how it is,” said Potvin, the Belton product who had four hits, reached base seven times and scored three runs against last-place Vernon (17-25, 2-16). “We’ve got to play defense and pitch, and our bats are coming alive. I think we have a pretty good shot to get into that regional.”
The Leopards rallied with longtime assistant coach Frank Kellner managing them after McMurtry exited following his second ejection this season, meaning TC’s 21st-year boss likely must serve a two-game suspension during Temple’s doubleheader at Vernon at 11 a.m. Friday.
TC trailed 5-0 in the third when Vernon’s Brooks Betcher bunted. Third baseman Dalton Watts charged in and used his glove to flick the ball to former Temple Wildcat Torrez, who tagged out Demetrius Young. But the umpire then ruled that Torrez illegally blocked Young’s path to the plate, allowing the run.
McMurtry charged from TC’s dugout and lambasted the umpire for his application of the rule and continued his argument well after his well-earned ejection.
“When you argue a call like that, you’re trying to make your case but you’re also trying to stand up for your guys to make sure they know you’ve got their back,” McMurtry said. “There’s a difference in the rule and how the game is played.”
Vaclavick (3-1) relieved ineffective Reece Easterling in the fourth after Potvin’s run-scoring single made it 9-1 in the third. Vaclavick struck out four in four-plus scoreless innings before finesse left-hander Fernandez recorded the final six outs to save the comeback win.
“That’s huge to get six shutout innings from those guys and give us a chance,” Potvin said.
Temple pulled within 9-8 in the fifth with a seven-run outburst that featured sloppy Vernon defense, sacrifice flies by Torrez and Potvin and RBI doubles from Devin Tucker and Max Puls. The Leopards overtook the Chaparrals in the seventh on a run-scoring wild pitch and Watts’ bases-loaded walk.
Sophomore righty Reed (2-4) entered with a 9.36 earned-run average but limited Vernon to five hits and a first-inning run. Temple gave him ample support with three-run innings in the first, third and fifth plus two in the sixth. Key hits included an RBI single by Aaron Krueger (Belton) in the first, Puls’ two-run homer in the third and two-run singles by Tucker in the fifth and Puls in the sixth, enforcing the 10-run rule.