The Denton Outlaws, defending champion of the Texas Collegiate League Rogers Hornsby Division, are "batting" a perfect 1.000 in years in the TCL and first-place finishes.
Denton already has surpassed last year's final mark of 26-22. The Outlaws are 27-18 with three games remaining and just awaiting the second-place finisher in the Hornsby Division.
The race for No. 2 in this loop is the closest among the three other teams in Hornsby since the origination of the league. Prior to Thursday's three TCL tilts, Mineral Wells (19-26) leads Graham and Weatherford (both 18-16) by half a game.
Last season in the Hornsby Division standings Graham and Weatherford both tied at 20-28 overall. Denton later edged Weatherford (second-place playoff finisher by virtue of head-to-head wins over Graham) 2-0 in '05 first round playoffs.
The Outlaws have accomplished their initial 2006 goals with a great mix of league-leading hitting (.262), home runs (28, two ahead of Graham with 26 dingers), runs (251), RBI (215), and stolen bases with 92 (in 116 tries) for 79.3 percent success in stealing sacks.
Coach Derek Matlock's crew is making every hit and base advance count this year with 398 total safeties and a circuit-best 5.6 runs per contest. Last season's squad scored 281 runs in 48 clashes for 5.9 tallies each contest to pace the TCL.
Despite the loss of professional signees C Josh Banda (California Baptist) and Dan Donaldson (Texas State), Denton has not missed too many beats on the diamond. The Outlaws also had to replace Major League draftee Andrew Brown (Nebraska) - the '05 TCL Player of the Year and - TCL All-Stars pitcher Jordan Davis (Alabama), pitcher Blake Kronkosky (Oklahoma State), SS Philip Stringer (Auburn), and the injured (in 2006) OF-IF Kern Watts (Evansville).
Stepping up the pace for the Outlaws have been returning starting OF All-Star Kyle Jones (Texas State) with a .208 batting average and solid defensive leadership, 2006 TCL batting lead contender and All-Star Aljay Davis (Oklahoma) at .357, IF Matt Cline (.312) of Long Beach State, OF Jose Hernandez (.318) of Long Beach State, and utilityman Craig Corriston of Paris Junior College at .287.
Pitchers Kurt Pessa (4-0, TCL-best 0.00 earned run average with no runs of any kind allowed in 30 innings and 28 strikeouts to lead all TCU moundmen) of Rice, Brice Ary (2-0, 1.00 ERA, second-best ERA in league) of Baylor, Juston Street (1-2, 3.21) of Texas, Will Skelton (4-0, 2.57) of TCU, and Josh Ruffin (2-0, 2.34) of Texas-San Antonio have born the bulk of the successful mound duties.
"Team concept" is the byword for the Outlaws, who went 4-1 in 2005 postseason play and who seem to be gathering steam (with apologies to contending Mineral Wells) for another stretch run at the big flag of the Texas Collegiate League again in '06.
In other TCL notes:
-One leading national publication bemoaned the fact that a competing wood bat summer league barely had pitchers hitting 88 mph on the radar guns during the annual All-Star Game. That hasn't been the case in the TCL this season. The pitching-savvy league features eight teams with earned run averages of 4.00 or better (led by Coppell at 2.69), Coppell's average of better than one strikeout every inning (437 in 394 1/3 stanzas), Duncanville's average of just under nine whiffs each nine innings (354 Ks in 376 2/3 IP), and three teams with 10-plus saves in fewer than 50 total team performances. These include McKinney with 16 saves, the Copperheads with 13 and Euless with 11. TCL squads also feature 28 complete games - an increase of 17 over last season's final total of 11 CG through all 48 contests for the then-eight-team TCL.
-RHP Paul Schneider (Plano) of Rhodes via Dallas had a skein of 22 consecutive innings without an earned run and capped the streak with a seven-inning shutout against Duncanville 6-0 in the inaugural Wood Bat Classic at Fort Worth's LaGrave Field. Overall, he has yielded three earned runs in four appearances and has a 1.16 ERA in 23 2/3 frames.
-TCL alumni and projected 2006 participants continue to make major headlines for 2006 Team USA - the national team heading to Havana, Cuba, for the International Baseball Classic. Security is tight, and the players are prepared the represent the United States with class under trying circumstances after the recent major surgery to Cuba's Prime Minister Fidel Castro, a pitcher of note before taking over as leader of the island nation after a coup in 1959. Team USA meets Chinese Taipei Monday at 9 a.m. (CDT) in the opening round of the 16-team IBC.
Catcher Preston Clark (scheduled to compete for Coppell in 2006 and a Texas standout) has started 12 games for the 20-2-1 United States team, which won 14 consecutive games before a 2-1 setback to Korea. He has one homer and six RBI.
Pitcher Jake Arrieta (TCU) has zoomed to a 3-0 record with no earned runs (two runs total), a 0.00 ERA, 24 innings pitched, four starts, two combined shutouts, 24 strikeouts, and only nine hits allowed for his pre-IBC activity.
Matt Smith of McKinney (Texas Tech) was invited to Team USA tryouts and has returned to the TCL fray to assist the Marshals with a game-winning home run and five RBI in 10 outings. Smith, playing with same-named pitcher Matt Smith of McKinney (Wichita State) has been utilized as a designated hitter because of a late-Tech-season knee injury. Damon Sublett of Coppell (Wichita State) also received a Team USA bid but was unable to compete for the nationals.
Eight-Week Wrap-up on TCL Baseball: (Aug. 3)
What else can happen in the tight-as-a-drum Texas Collegiate League race in 2006?
How about a three-way tie for second in the Rogers Hornsby Division among Mineral Wells (19-26), Graham (18-26) and Weatherford (18-26)? The Steam has three games remaining at Western rival Graham Thursday night, a home test against Hornsby Division champ Denton Saturday, and a possibly-decisive bout at the Wranglers Sunday.
Add in Graham's trip to Euless Friday, a head-to-head matchup with Weatherford in Graham Saturday and the Roughnecks' finale at Denton Sunday night, and the playoff recipe grows even thicker. The Weatherford road to try and join Coppell and McKinney (barring Euless' late charge in the Speaker Division) as possibly the first-ever teams to make the TCL division playoffs in three consecutive years includes Thursday night's trek to Duncanville, hosting Denton Friday, going to Graham Saturday, and hosting Mineral Wells Sunday.
Well, consider also that Coppell and McKinney are knotted at 29-16 for the top spot the three games remaining apiece in the Speaker Division, and the first two seasons of TCL play never yielded a tie for first place. McKinney has the tiebreaker edge in the season series between the three-year rivals, who carry the league's top all-time records from June 2004-Aug. 2, 2006. The Marshals are 90-53 (.629 winning percentage - all under head coach Kyle Hope) while the Copperheads stand 90-54 (.625 in the composite three-year standings) under the guidance of head coaches Jack Giese in 2004-05 and Skip Johnson and Whoa Dill in 2006).
Remaining on their respective slates are McKinney (at Euless Thursday, hosting Plano Friday, and hosting Coppell Sunday in what might be the decisive game of the year) and Coppell (hosting Duncanville Friday, hosting Euless Saturday and at McKinney in the key Sunday finale).
The Euless LoneStars also have been hanging in toughly through 44 games. The Mid-Cities power stands just three games at 25-19 behind Coppell and McKinney in the loss column with four tussles remaining - starting with the key hosting of McKinney Thursday night. A Marshals' win in that outing clinches no worse than second place in 2006 for the Collin County stalwarts.
The second-place finisher in the Tris Speaker Division has an additional advantage in being the host for the TCL championship playoffs Aug. 11-12 (or 13 if necessary) if it knocks off the final No. 1 seed. This occurred last summer when McKinney and Denton both advanced in the Speaker and Hornsby playoffs. McKinney's 28-20 final regular-season mark was better than Denton's 26-22 worksheet, and the Marshals had home field advantage in two of the best-of-3 last series. The teams split games (with the visiting team winning the first two games) before the Outlaws edged the Marshals 3-1 in the championship test at McKinney.
A glance at the final 2005 standings reveals amazingly-similar finishes by most of the Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby Division principals. Coppell closed 31-17 to McKinney's 28-20, one game ahead of Euless at 27-21. Denton actually is already one win ahead of its 26-22 win production with three skirmishes left in '06 while Graham, Mineral Wells and Weatherford are bunched with exactly the same number of defeats.
Fans wishing to be part of the most closely-bunched final weekend in TCL history can find complete schedules, leaders, and a wide variety of information on the official TCL Web site at www.Texascollegiateleague.com. Playoff times and site will be known by late Sunday night or early Monday morning and will be available on the site.