The following is a question and answer with Tyler Junior College sophomore second baseman Tyler Ernest. He is fourth in the team in hitting at .319 with six doubles and 20 RBIs. Ernest has stolen 14 bases in 15 attempts and sports a fielding percentage of .985 (only two errors in 36 games).
Before TJC, Ernest was a four-year varsity baseball player for Jasper High School, helping the Bulldogs to two state tournament appearances, including a state championship in 2007. As a senior in 2010, Ernest played shortstop and hit .388 as the Bulldogs made the Final Four.
Ernest graduated sixth in his class at Jasper and has maintained a 3.9 GPA at TJC. If he does not play baseball at the next level, he already has a backup plan — he’s been accepted to the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.
Ernest and the Apaches (28-18) begin the playoffs on Friday. TJC, which is ranked No. 9 in NCAA Division III, plays a three-game series with No. 2 North Arkansas (33-7) on Friday (6 p.m. single game) and Saturday (noon doubleheader) in Star City, Ark. The winner of the series will meet the No. 4 team from the Metro Athletic Conference, while the loser will play the No. 3 team from the MAC. Those best-of-three series are scheduled for May 4-5 at Mike Carter Field in Tyler. The winner of those series advance to the District C Tournament (double-elimination) on May 11-13 at Mike Carter. The champion of District C advances to the NJCAA D-III World Series (double elimination) in Tyler, which begins on May 19.
Question: How long have you been playing baseball?
I started playing T-ball when I was four. I also started playing golf when I was around 5 and played in tournaments until I was 12. I gave it up to focus baseball.
Q: How did you wind up in Tyler?
My head coach at Jasper — Shawn Mixon — called around for me. He thought I should play on the next level. Three schools called and Tyler was one of the three. I liked the TJC coaches, the facilities and the town.
Q: Is the team ready for the playoffs?
We are starting to come together really well. We have the chemistry — I consider all of these guys my best friends.
We started off hot — we were excited to play and then came the middle of the season where you kind of go through the grind and your body kind of wears down. But we fought through it. Coach (Doug Wren) put together a tough schedule out there for us and we know it will pay off in the future.
We have overcome adversity and we are coming together strong toward the end.
Q: Is the team peaking at the right time?
Our pitching has come together the last few games and our bats are getting hot.
Q: TJC just defeated Texarkana College, normally one of the better juco teams, 2-0 on Monday. Did that give the team momentum?
Texarkana is a Division I junior college team and they have big-time D-I recruits. When you have an all-around good performance against a good team like Texarkana, it gives you a lot of confidence.
Q: Does this team have what it takes to reach the D-III World Series?
I definitely think this team has the ability and we have a talented team. Everyone knows anything in baseball can happen. If we can get everything clicking at the right time I know we have the talent that can take us a far as we want to go.
Q: What makes this such a good team?
I would have to say chemistry. We are all pulling on the same rope here. … As long as we are winning and everyone is doing what they are supposed to do we are all happy and we are all happy for each other.
Q: After the North Arkansas series, the remainder of the playoffs are at your home field of Mike Carter. Is the team excited about this?
It is definitely an advantage playing at home. We are 21-6 at home and it’s hard to beat us at home. The fans really get us energized.
School: Tyler Junior College
Position: Second Base
Height: 5 foot, 11 inches
High School: Jasper
Parents: Stephen and Tracey Ernest
Siblings: Brother, Cody, a junior golf standout at Jasper
Distance from Jasper to Tyler: 151 miles
Favorite Music: Country, Rap
Favorite Artist: Lil Wayne, Jason Aldean
Favorite Movie: Moneyball
Favorite Book: Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back, By Josh Hamilton
Favorite Athlete: Robinson Cano
Favorite Team: Houston Astros