Raven Sauceda reached out and almost floated into the arms of his catcher, Albert Castro.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the Grey Wolves converged on their embrace a few feet in front of the mound, as the long-suffering Shoemaker baseball team celebrated the completion of a years-long goal — securing its first playoff appearance.
“I kind of wanted to cry,” Grey Wolves’ sophomore Sauceda said. “So when Albert (rushed) me, I was just really happy (because) I knew that was it and we were going to playoffs ... Shoemaker had to make history.”
After nearly eight hours of baseball Saturday, it was Harker Heights' Knights who littered the Killeen High field with their gloves after exploding for a nine-run fifth inning to beat the rival Grey Wolves 11-6 to sweep both games of the District 8-5A play-in tripleheader and secure the third-place playoff seed.
“There was so much at stake, (but) I think we love that pressure on us — we want to come out and prove people wrong,” said Knights junior Caleb Dean, who was 4 for 5 with three doubles and three RBIs, all coming in the nine-run fifth against Shoemaker. “We just had to win ball games and that’s what we pretty much did.”
The Knights, who needed a win last night in the regular-season finale against Copperas Cove just to force the three-way play-in scenario, battled back from the brink and rolled up victories over Ellison and Shoemaker thanks to a couple of big innings.
“For them to play the second game and really come back and battle after going through a lot of up and down valleys with the emotion, I thought that was tremendous,” Heights head coach Glenn Cunningham said.
The fourth-seeded Grey Wolves (16-11, 7-7) will play District 7-5A champion Midlothian (23-7-1, 13-1) in a one-game matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Baylor, while the third-place Knights (15-13, 7-7 8-5A) will play Mansfield (17-12, 11-3) in a three-game series Thursday through Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“It’s major; our goal from the beginning of the year was to find a way to get in the playoffs and we’ve been close all season, so it’s not a surprise it came down to this,” said Shoemaker head coach Harry Zambrana.
“Hats off to Heights, those kids were fired up, they wanted it and they played hard.”
Sauceda scattered nine hits over seven innings and knocked in three RBIs as the Grey Wolves capitalized on 10 Ellison errors for a 9-2 win in the first game of the tripleheader Saturday afternoon.
“You just have to be baseball smart and be ready for anything to happen out there,” said Shoemaker senior Jamie Funk, who scored two runs in the game.
Winners of three straight entering Saturday, including a 7-5 victory Friday night over the same Grey Wolves, the Eagles couldn’t get their bats going and didn’t help themselves defensively as Ellison was outscored by a combined 20-3 following an 11-1, five-inning season-ending loss to Harker Heights in the second game.
“When you’re forced into a doubleheader situation like we were, with a possible three-game series in two nights, we don’t have the pitching depth to do it,” Ellison head coach Kyle Allred said.
“We haven’t played bad defense all year, … and then it’s like everything that could have happened (wrong) happened today.”
SHOEMAKER 9, ELLISON 2
- Key player: Raven Saudeda, 7 IP, 2 ER, 9 hits, 5 Ks, 2 for 5, 3 RBIs
- Key moment: With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third, Ellison third baseman Sam Weston fielded a ground ball off the bat of Shoemaker’s John Gueits, but instead of taking the force out, he sailed a throw to first and allowed two runs to score in a four-run inning.
- Why Shoemaker won: Behind Sauceda on the mound, the Grey Wolves made the most of extra opportunities on the basepaths and scored eight of their nine runs courtesy of Ellison’s 10 fielding and throwing errors, including five by Weston. Shoemaker designated hitter Elijah Hilliard was 1 for 4 but scored two runs and knocked in another on an RBI double in a three-run fourth.
HARKER HEIGHTS 11, ELLISON 1, 5 INN.
- Key player: Robby Sluss, 3 for 3, 3 runs, 4 RBIs, solo HR to start the game
- Key moment: Sluss, batting leadoff, drilled an 0-2 fastball over the left-center field wall for a solo home run in Harker Heights’ first at-bat of the game.
- Why Harker Heights won: The Knights strung together some timely hitting from the start, including a two-RBI single by Michael Rae Zapata in a three-run first, and a two-RBI double by Tyler Torres to cap a three-run fourth. Heights also took advantage of eight walks by a tired Eagles pitching staff.
HARKER HEIGHTS 11, SHOEMAKER 6
- Key player: Caleb Dean, 4 for 5, 3 2Bs, 3 RBIs, 2 runs
- Key moment: After allowing Shoemaker to take a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the Knights opened the fifth with five straight hits — including a two-RBI single by Dean — as their first eight batters reached base before an RBI sacrifice fly by Sluss for the first out.
- Why Harker Heights won: The Knights’ bats got hot at the right time and the offense started rolling as six of the nine Heights batters came up to the plate twice in the nine-run frame. From there, sophomore reliever Sheppard Mayo closed out the final three innings, scattering three hits.