Raul Ortega Catching

Howard College catcher Raul Ortega catches a strike during the Hawks 10-7 loss to Grayson in the first game of a double-header played on Friday, March 1, 2019.

Two more Howard Hawk baseball players have made their future college decisions over the past few days. The pairing of pitcher Steven Medrano and catcher Raul Ortega have decided to continue their playing careers as members of the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles.

“I know it’s a good program with good history and a great new head coach,” Medrano said.

Both players produced well during their time repping the red and black of Howard College and were ready to move on after their time in Big Spring. However, even though they are both happy to be done playing at the junior college level, they are even more thrilled to be able to continue their journey together.

“It’s really cool to have Raul coming with me because he’s been there since the start of my pitching career. He caught me a lot this season and I’m comfortable with him behind the plate. I love his attitude, his pitch calling and his defense. I think it’s kind of a blessing that I get to go with him to Tennessee and not only be living with him but probably throwing to him every weekend as well.”

Ortega added, “Steven was looking at other schools and I was telling him that he’s really going to get a chance (at Tennessee Tech). He’s going to pitch a lot and we have a chance to change the environment and do what we have to do. We always seem to be in sync when he’s on the mound so it’s awesome and I’m excited about it.”

Both players have formed a connection on the field and Medrano likes his chances to step up into the starting pitcher rotation because of the opportunity to keep throwing to Ortega. The connection between a pitcher and catcher is one of the strongest in sports and this duo seems to have formed one strong enough that they wanted to continue their baseball careers together.

Tennessee Tech plays in the Ohio Valley Conference at the NCAA Division I level and are led by longtime Baylor Bears Head Coach Steve Smith. Smith took over the job last December and had his first season as skipper in Cookeville cut short by the coronavirus. The Golden Eagles are a team on the rise and the two Howard Hawks that were added to the future roster hope to step into roles where they can help, and hope to, contribute immediately. They know that it will not be easy, though, and they are ready and expecting a competitive atmosphere when they arrive at their first practices next year.

“They are bringing me in as an expected starter but I understand that you can’t go into any program with your spot secured,“ Medrano said. “I’m going to go in there just like I did my freshman year at Howard and work as hard as if I’m the worst one there. I’m just going to work my butt off and see what happens. I’m not expecting to be a starter, I’m not even expecting to make the team, I’m just going in there to work as hard as I can.”

Medrano spent three years at Howard after redshirting during his first year on campus. The right-handed pitcher from El Paso had quickly developed into one of the strongest pitchers on the Hawks roster and his strikeout ability undoubtedly caught the eyes of several schools around the country.

This past season, Medrano made the switch from infielder to full-time pitcher and appeared in four games and pitching a total of seven innings. There were eight other pitchers on the roster who spent more time on the mound but none had a higher percentage of strikeouts per nine innings (16.71) and Medrano also finished third on the team in ERA (3.86).

“I felt more competitive on the mound,” Medrano said. “I just wanted to compete and help the team win, no matter how I did that.”

On the other hand, Ortega was a consistent player in the lineup since he first arrived at Howard. His freshman season was more productive than many other true freshmen experience during their time as a member of the Hawks program. He has also developed into a strong backstop behind the plate and his ability to understand each individual pitcher and their tendencies is a talent all in itself.

The catcher from New Jersey appeared in 13 games during the shortened 2020 season with 34 at-bats. In those limited plate appearances, Ortega was able to record 11 hits (three doubles), score five runs, drive-in an additional four runs and finish with one of the top batting averages on the team (.324). He has a confidence that is sky-high and he is prepared for the challenge awaiting him at the next level. 

“I know I’m going to be consistent and I’m going to command the staff behind the plate. I’m really excited to catch Steven and all of the other pitchers that are going to be there,” Ortega said.

Even with the shortened 2020 season because of COVID-19, these two players put enough on film to catch the eye of plenty of Division I scouts. In fact, Ortega found himself in a situation where a video posted online by former assistant coach Eddie Paparella actually caused the Tennessee Tech coaches to notice him and offer him a scholarship.

“Before COVID, I only had two offers,” Ortega said. “And then (Paparella) was posting videos of the players everyday and Tennessee Tech actually saw the video. They never got to see me in-person, but they saw the video and then we talked everyday about my game and we just made it a right fit.”

Both players embraced the city of Big Spring during their time spent at Howard and considered it the perfect place to hone in on their craft and just play ball. Now, they are both ready to take the next step in their baseball journey together in a new place that will be brand new to both of them.

The current Tennessee Tech players should be on the lookout because these two Howard Hawks will be coming for your starting spot.

Shawn Moran is the sportswriter at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, e-mail sports@bigspringherald.com or call 432-263-7331.

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