For the first pitch of the 2014 Harker Heights baeball season, Daniel Cole stepped to the plate to face Brett Burrington this past spring in a scrimmage against Vista Ridge.
Cole was nervous, and Burrington, who will pitch at Stephen F. Austin this fall, started him off with a fastball that Cole watched for a strike.
The next pitch was a fastball again, only this time Cole swung and missed — 0-2.
That was when Cole decided it was time to stop pressing.
“I just told myself to relax,” Cole said, “I’ve been doing this for a while.”
And it worked. Cole sat back on the next pitch, a curveball, and got himself the first hit of the Knights’ season, a leadoff single to right.
But, despite what he told himself, Cole hadn’t been doing that for a while — at least not at the varsity level.
That play was the first at-bat of his high school career.
“After that,” former Harker Heights coach Glenn Cunningham said, “we pretty much felt like there was a spot for him somewhere on our team.”
Cole, a freshman, not only helped the Knights with his bat but also blossomed into one of the best pitchers in District 8-5A last season.
For that, Cole is the 2014 All-Area Newcomer of the Year.
Cole posted a 7-2 district record with his only losses coming to playoff teams: Temple and two-time defending district champion Belton.
The Belton game was the first district start of his career, and the Tigers jumped on Cole with two runs in the first.
But Cole rebounded, only allowing one run the rest of the game against a potent Tiger lineup.
It was a fine example of a poise that belied his age, the same poise that Cole displayed over the course of the season.
Yet Cole, as he typically did last season, said his defense was the biggest reason for his success.
“My defense was outstanding,” Cole said. “We hardly made errors, my defense played behind me, so I knew that having a good defense, all I had to do was throw strikes and give my team a chance to win.”
His coach, however, said Cole was just as big of a reason for that success thanks to a pitching repertoire that also belied his age.
“The biggest surprise for me was his pitching ability — not so much that he couldn’t pitch, but he had command of three different pitches,” Cunningham said. “And for a young kid at his age to command three pitches like he could was really outstanding.
“You don’t see that. Usually you see a kid trying to develop a third pitch, and he already had command of three different pitches.”
And while Cunningham said Cole impressed the Knights from Day 1, he also said Cole never stopped surprising as the season wore on — even after setting the bar that high in his first varsity at-bat.
“We had high expectations,” Cunningham said, “but I think he still exceeded those. No question about that.”