Harker Heights needed just about every player on its roster to make contributions last Friday.
The Knights were in a back-and-forth battle in the bi-district round of the Class 6A playoffs against Cedar Hill in Waco, and they collectively got the job done.
Daniel Cole was 1-for-3 at the plate with two walks, each of Jackson Rinehart, Tre Martin and Jacob Mitchell tallied two hits, and Harker Heights came out on top in a 5-4 decision.
Cole started the game at pitcher for the Knights and delivered with 6 1/3 innings while allowing four runs — three earned — on seven hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts.
Cole held the Longhorns scoreless in every inning except the fourth, when they plated all four of their runs for the game on three hits, a walk and an error.
“When we went down, I came to the dugout with my head down a little bit,” Cole said. “I was just frustrated with myself, but coach (Randy) Culp came in and picked me up. He said, ‘You’re the leader of this team, so get up there and get this team on their feet.’
“I came through — felt like I was a good team leader, and we came back and pulled it out.”
Cedar Hill (17-11-1) held a 4-2 advantage at that point, but Harker Heights came through in the clutch in the top of the sixth.
Matt Smith led off the frame by drawing a six-pitch walk. After a strikeout, Andres McAdams was hit by a pitch and Cole pulled a single through the hole between third base and shortstop to load the bases.
Rinehart then executed a perfect sacrifice squeeze bunt to score Smith from third, and Rinehart was able to reach on an error at pitcher on the play to keep the bases full. One batter later, Martin was behind 1-2 in the count, but he extended his arms on a fastball on the outside corner and sent it up the middle and into center field for a two-run single to allow the Knights (14-13-1) to recapture a lead they would not relinquish.
“I’m pretty shocked, actually,” Martin said. “That was my first time to play in a playoff game. I’m really happy right now. I never would’ve dreamed of this, but it’s happening and I’m going to enjoy every moment with these seniors.
“They’re really great guys, and this is a great program. I’m really glad I’m here.”
Cole took the mound in the bottom of the seventh and walked one before Cedar Hill’s Devin Rader sacrificed the runner to second with a bunt. Cole reached the 110-pitch limit to Rader and had to be lifted, but Mitchell took the mound with the tying run at second and struck out the final two hitters to record a save and end the game.
“Coach Culp had talked to me earlier this week and said, ‘I’m going to need you to be big and step up as a leader on the team,’” Mitchell said. “He said, ‘Most likely, you’re going to have to throw some on Friday night,’ and I told him I’m just going to come in and throw strikes and let the defense work behind me.
“I have all the confidence in the world in my defense and my catcher.”
Harker Heights had a 2-0 lead through four innings in the contest thanks to an error in the top of the first that allowed Kainoa Rillera to score, and Smith hit a sacrifice fly to right in the top of the fourth to score Mitchell.
The Knights are playing Allen (22-10) this weekend in a three-game series in the area round.
At press time, the two teams were scheduled to open the set Thursday. First pitch in Game 2 is tonight at 7 p.m., and Game 3, if necessary, will be played Saturday at 2 p.m.
All three games are being played in Corsicana.