The area round of the Class 6A postseason was bittersweet for Randy Culp.
Harker Heights went three games with Allen at Corsicana and eventually succumbed in a 2-1 decision in Game 3 on May 13, and the Eagles moved on to face Southlake Carroll in the Region I-6A quarterfinals.
Allen was swept by the Dragons, and Culp was sad to see it happen. He was rooting for the Eagles and their head coach, Paul Coe.
Culp and Coe’s relationship goes way back to their college days at North Texas in the mid-’90s. The two first met while playing club baseball, because the Mean Green don’t have a baseball program.
As a player-coach for the team, Culp was impressed with Coe’s ability on the diamond.
“I cut my teeth in coaching there a little bit,” Culp said. “Paul was a hard-nosed baseball player. He played third base for us, and he was a knock it down and make it happen kind of guy.
“He’s one of those players you wanted on your team because he was not afraid to get dirty. I had a lot of fun with him in college.”
Coe felt the same about Culp’s play behind the plate.
“Him dropping bombs on the baseball field is where we met,” Coe said. “He was quite the little hitter, is what he was. He caught for us, too, and he was a good baseball player.
“He was drafted right out of high school by the Montreal Expos.”
Culp was selected in the MLB draft in 1993, and he spent three seasons with Montreal in the minor leagues before electing to obtain his degree at North Texas.
It was there he and Coe met, and Culp helped build a club league that is still thriving, and Coe and the rest of the team looked up to Culp.
“He was the dad of the group, and I guess me and another guy were the children,” Coe said. “We kind of stayed in trouble, I guess. Dad had to get onto us a little bit.
“But he built that program and did a good job with that club team. He ended up getting a budget and everything.”
And their relationship has continued to thrive.
“That’s back when I was still in shape and could do that stuff,” Culp quipped. “We played a bunch of stuff together — intramurals and whatnot, and just did a lot together. We’ve kept in touch and done a few things with our families.”
Culp was obviously heartbroken about the loss in the playoffs to Allen, but if there was anyone he wanted to see move on, it was the Eagles and their head coach.
“I’ve known Paul for a long time, I guess 20 years or more now,” Culp said. “We’ve never really had the opportunity to play each other, but us moving into Region I opened up that possibility. It was pretty special, but I had mixed feelings.
“I was sad that we didn’t get to go, but I was happy he got to move on. He expressed to me the same feeling, but I have the utmost respect for him and what they do.
“You want to leave it all out on the field, and we left it all out there. No regrets, as far as that goes.”
Coe’s sentiment was similar.
“I joked with him before Game 3,” Coe said. “I went over to him and said, ‘How about we just flip a coin here? No one wins or loses, let’s just do a coin flip.’
“I never want to do it again; let’s just put it that way. I never want to play a buddy in the playoffs ever again. I’d rather scrimmage or something like that, where no one loses.”
But the area-round playoff series allowed the two to reconnect while coaching the sport they love, and they got some extra time during a weather-delayed Game 1.
“We set a time limit on the delay that was fair,” Coe said. “We hit the time limit, so we didn’t finish that night and resumed it the next day. There are some other coaches out there that are just rude, and they would do anything at any cost (to gain an advantage).
“But it was good to have him there and to sit and talk to him during that time.”
“During that rain delay, we were out there playing rock, paper, scissors,” Culp joked. “That’s what baseball should be about. Sometimes we forget that baseball is fun and fun to play.
“That was a good experience. Sometimes, as coaches, you can get caught up in the competitiveness of it and kind of forget that it’s just a game and it’s fun, and it kind of brought that back to us with that series.”