In 2013, the TJC baseball team won 38 contests and advanced to the District C Tournament, winning some big games along the way but falling short of its ultimate goal.
As the 2014 season got under way on Feb. 3, the Apaches are looking to fix what went wrong at the end of last season and take the next step – back to the NJCAA Division III World Series.
“Last year, we had a great regular season,” TJC head coach Doug Wren said. “We got what we needed in there. Basically, our season builds up to the district tournament. Going into the district tournament, we felt good about where we were at. We just didn’t play our best baseball. Nothing went our way up there.
“It was a heartbreaking weekend because we had such high expectations.”
TJC went 2-2 at the tournament and lost in the championship game to Brookhaven 7-5.
Last season is now history and the Apaches are hoping to make amends for coming up short last spring. They are ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Preseason Top 10 poll.
This year’s roster features 16 freshmen and 18 sophomores, all looking to be playing for a national championship on their home field in May.
The team lost the majority of its pitching staff to graduation last year, but Wren expects sophomore Erik Polivka to be one of the leaders on the mound. The left-hander from Georgetown has already signed with Stephen F. Austin.
Polivka was 4-2 last season with a 4.30 ERA in 44 innings pitched.
Sophomore Kevin Williams, a left-hander from League City, is also a starter that Williams expects to be at the top of his rotation. Wren also expects several newcomers to step up and help carry the load.
While the team lacks experience in pitching, it returns plenty of experience offensively, led by All-American sophomore outfielder Anthony Soriano from Flower Mound.
Soriano batted .339 with 14 doubles, two home runs and 33 RBIs last season.
Wren also expects big things from returning first baseman Eric Stegent, a sophomore from Brenham who was one of the team’s better hitters last season. Second baseman Justin Monsour, a sophomore from McKinney, also returns as does catcher Connor Wyre.
Stegent batted .333 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 38 RBIs last season while Monsour batted .280 with eight doubles, and 19 RBIs.
Monsour is one of the leaders on the team and he said it is a role that he is looking forward to this season.
Wren also expects some freshmen to come in and contribute in a big way in their first season on the team.
“We have a good mix of some young guys and some experienced guys, especially offensively,” Wren said. “On the pitching side, we have a lot of talent, it is just the experience factor that we are concerned with.”
Wren will use the first few weeks of the season to evaluate his team and try to find the perfect mix of players for the team to be successful. With a roster of 34 and a near-even mix of freshmen and sophomores, he is excited about the depth of his team, something that he hasn’t always had.
The Apaches haven’t been to the NJCAA Division III World Series since 2012. They haven’t won it since 2007, but came close in 2010 and 2012.
The players and their coach hope to figure out what it takes to get to the next step – a national championship appearance and possible title on their home field. TJC will once again host the NJCAA Division III national tournament this year.
“We have to win the games when it matters,” Wren said. “We have to approach each game like everything is on the line.”
Stegent said the players are also using last year’s loss in the district championship game as motivation to make it to this year’s DIII World Series and win it all on their home field.