The McLennan Community College baseball team will open the season at familiar ground — Bosque River Ballpark — and hope to end it in what is becoming increasingly familiar territory in Grand Junction, Colo.

MCC takes the field for the first time this season Friday. The Highlanders, ranked No. 6 in the NJCAA preseason poll, will host Angelina College at noon.

Last year’s squad had an overall record of 52-13, going 26-6 to win the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. They won the Region V tournament, before finishing in fifth place at the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction.

Coach Mitch Thompson, in his fifth year at MCC, said the team’s goals and expectations are always very high, and this year is no exception. The team has a balanced roster of 17 sophomores and 18 freshmen. Led by catcher Josh Breaux, the No. 1-ranked juco catcher prospect in the country for the major league draft, the team expects to battle for the national title.

According to Thompson, Breaux boasts a power arm and a power bat; watching him in practice brings out the “wows” from observers, Thompson said. The coach is also pleased with short stop George Callil from Melbourne, Australia, a signee with South Carolina.

But when pressed, Thompson points to his pitching staff this year. He is confident that the starters will do an excellent job, and believes the Highlanders have depth in the bullpen, too. Jase Embry, a Super Centex star from Riesel, was last year’s ace, and has a great command of the plate, Thompson said. Former West standout Bailey Horn is the other ace of the staff; he’s signed to play with Auburn next season.

Seven players on this year’s roster have signed with Division I programs. In addition to Callil and Horn, Breaux has signed with Arkansas. Logan Freeman has signed with Baylor, Tristen Bayless with Texas, and Nick Thornquist and Griffin Paxton plan to play with UT-San Antonio.

Thompson has led MCC to a 170-172 record over the previous four seasons, going 87-41 in conference play during that time. He’s led the team to post-season play in all four seasons, advancing to the Junior College World Series in 2015 and 2017. The team finished as a runner-up in 2015, and came in fifth in 2017.

Prior to coming to MCC, Thompson was an assistant coach for Baylor from 1995-2012, serving as assistant head coach of the Bears for 2009-2012. His assistant coaches are Chris Berry and James Leverton.

Berry has been with the program since 2014, having served first as an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he worked with the pitchers. He has also coached at Ohio, Baylor, Arkansas State and Sam Houston State.

Leverton is in his second season with the team, having played seven seasons in the minor leagues after playing for Texas Tech.

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