After dropping five of the last seven games to LSU-Eunice, Weatherford and one to TCS Post Grad, and having been dropped down to the No. 5 spot in the national rankings, the Apaches are steaming towards the end of the 2016-2017 regular season.
“It means absolutely nothing,” said Baseball Head Coach Doug Wren on his thoughts of national rankings. “I’ve gone into the national tournament ranked number three in the country and we won it, we’ve had teams go in ranked lower than that and it has no bearing on how we compete and go about our business every day.”
Wren’s team shows no sign of doubt that they will be back to defend their national title after coming off of a 13-game winning streak that began on March 12 in a 10-9 win over the No. 8 ranked (at the time) team in Division II, East Central Community College. TJC improved their record to 12-9 after escaping with a victory.
“We went in there with a positive mindset and everything started clicking for us,” said sophomore Pitcher James Kuykendall, the TJC leader in strikeouts. “Our hitters started hitting, our pitchers started pitching well, defense played well; didn’t have too many errors. So, when you’re clicking on all cylinders like that we’re going to be hard to beat.”
During this hot streak, TJC was able to sweep the next four series that they played with very limited days off in between each series.
“We have the toughest schedule in division three baseball. We’ve played three ranked division-two teams, we’ve faced several ranked division-one teams, we face the best junior college team in the country here in about three weeks. There’s no tougher schedule in division-three baseball than we have,” said Wren.
The Apaches won both games 10-0 in the two-game series against Houston Community College at home to start the month of April and to improve their record to 23-9. Both games were closed out by TJC in the sixth inning with the help of the 10-run rule. To continue their tight, tough schedule the Apaches went on the road and beat Angelina College 10-6 in a close game.
TJC came back home later that week to face the No. 3 ranked team in Division II, LSU-Eunice in a three-game series. LSU took home the first game of the series to put a halt to TJC’s winning streak and hand them their 10th loss of the season. The Apaches would take the second game to even up the series at a game apiece but couldn’t hang on late in the final game of the series and lost 5-1.
“LSU-Eunice is one of the best teams we play every year, regardless of division-one, division-two, division-three. They are better than most division-ones that we play,” said Wren. “We had a chance to win that last game we played against them, I know the score was 5-1 but that was a 2-1 ball game for most of it… they just got more timely hits than we did. And sometimes in baseball that’s what it comes down to.”
Three days later, TJC hit the road again and dropped two more games against Weatherford College. This led to the Apaches dropping the last four of five games in one week.
“The problem last night with Weatherford is we had no pitching left,” said Coach Wren. “We still hit the ball really well, we out-hit them in both games and again yesterday we left 22 [runners] on base. It just kind of came down to — we didn’t execute.”
With such a close-knit schedule for the No. 3 team in the nation, TJC has faced a struggle trying to keep pitchers fresh and rested in between series and games. This may have been the deciding factor for a lot of the losses this season.
“I think our offense has slightly fell off a little bit, but it’s a long season, it’s to be expected some,” said Kuykendall. “Yesterday, we went to Weatherford and we didn’t have our pitching all that well. It happens, we’ll bounce back from it.”
Kuykendall hasn’t had any doubt that his team will be able to bounce and neither does Coach Wren.
“I think maybe for the average viewer, dropping four out of five looks like something pretty scary but I think if you look over the course of the week, we played some pretty good baseball and we played two really good teams,” said Wren.
Another skill this team has been able to master is the skill of short memory. Playing back-to-back games repetitively, not every game, nor play or even pitch is going to go “your way” so to speak. In order to bounce back from these, a player or the whole team needs to be able to forget the last play or pitch and move on to the next one.
“We call it just ‘flushing it’ and moving on. That’s important in the game of baseball and particularly right now with some of the losses that we’ve endured,” said Coach Wren.
Kuykendall agreed with the head coach that, in order to keep the right mentality, a short memory is in order with every pitch.
“Even as a pitcher, if I get a bad call then I got to flush it right then and there,” said Kuykendall.
This is what Kuykendall and the team as whole will need to do now that their first conference series against Coastal Bend is here. With the Apaches now having dropped five of the last seven games, after they split their double-header against TCS Post Grad Academy on April 14, now would be the time to ‘flush’ them out and move on.
TJC will finish their four-game series against Coastal Bend on April 22 at home and then head out to Louisiana for another three-game series against LSU-Eunice on April 28-29.