HARKER HEIGHTS — Entering the season, Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum had one main problem — who was his ace?
One game into the District 8-5A slate and junior Jared Janczak answered that question with an emphatic “Me.”
Janczak tossed a career-high — and possibly school-record — 17 strikeouts and his Belton Tigers took advantage of 14 walks from three Harker Heights pitchers in a 6-1 district-opening victory Tuesday.
“After that performance, I would say it’s (Janczak). Wouldn’t you?” Cornblum agreed. “If the next guy strikes out 18, then we can talk.”
Janczak, who didn’t see much mound time last season with former ace Blayten Magana handling much of the load, was on from the beginning, striking out Knights leadoff hitter Cody Plagens looking. Janczak’s lone mistake came on the second batter of the game as he surrendered a 3-2 double to Michael Ray Zapata before sending Heights down in order on nine pitches.
“Right after the first batter, I was ready to go, I felt like the game was in my hands (so) I just took it and ran with it,” said Janczak, who also added an RBI single in a three-run sixth inning for one of Belton’s two hits on the night.
Along with his 17 strikeouts, Janczak allowed just one hit — the first-inning double — in his 120-pitch performance, striking out at least two Knights every inning, including three in the first, third and sixth innings.
“He had great command. Our plan was to go off-speed early to each batter, we knew they swing at the fastball early in the count, and we planned accordingly,” Cornblum said. “He had good composure and just staying within himself and stayed the course.
“What do you say? Seventeen strikeouts is pretty sweet.”
Even Knights head coach Glenn Cunningham was singing Janczak’s praises.
“(Janczak) was just absolutely filthy, he threw exceptionally well and was really nasty with his breaking pitch,” Cunningham said. “There were times that it just absolutely dropped off the table.”
While Janczak kept the Knights batters off balance with a tailing fastball and hard-breaking curveball, three different Heights pitchers struggled with control.
After sending Belton (5-5-1, 1-0 8-5A) down in order through the first two innings, including three punch outs, Knights starter Kyle Randal’s accuracy began to fade in the third, as he walked Tony Valdez on five pitches and then issued back-to-back four-pitch free passes.
Heights registered the inning’s second out when catcher Tyler Keller caught Mark Herrington stealing, but Janczak was hit on an 0-2 count and then walked in Valdez on seven pitches to Chase Cryer for the game’s first run.
“I thought Kyle had some mechanical things we can correct,” Cunningham said. “He was leaning back trying to get a little extra and his arm wasn’t catching up and he couldn’t get the ball out in front.”
Belton took advantage of nine walks over the fifth and sixth innings for five runs, scoring two in the fifth courtesy of four walks and an RBI single from Cameron Cooper.
In all, the Knights surrendered three runs on bases-loaded walks, with Randal walking seven, and relievers Damion May and Tyler Torres combining on seven. All 14 walks came in four innings between the third and sixth innings.
“They were patient. We want to be aggressive at that plate ... but they weren’t getting pitches they wanted and they were working it,” Cornblum said. “You know what, it is what it is, and if we can get on base, I don’t care if it’s a hit or a walk. It all worked out pretty good for us tonight.”