HARKER HEIGHTS — Big district game against pesky cross-city rival Ellison, Glenn Cunningham had no hesitation on who to start on the mound. He was going with the freshman.
In his first varsity start at pitcher, Harker Heights freshman Tyler Torres made his head coach look smart, out-dueling Eagles senior ace Tyler Bark with five strikeouts through four innings and a pair of RBI singles as the Knights held on for a 7-5 win Friday.
“He’s a good freshman, and he’s shown that he can compete early in the season,” Cunningham said of Torres.
“He’s not what you would call ‘a normal freshman,’ he’s very advanced for his age.”
Not that the 15-year-old didn’t have his struggles. Torres hit Ellison leadoff hitter Angelo Rodriguez with his second pitch of the night and labored at times in a two-run third inning, but for the most part, he played well above his class rank.
“Honestly, I was nervous (at first), but then I got into my (groove) and I settled down after the first couple of pitches,” Torres said. “(At first) the ball was hard to grip, it was a brand new ball and you had to rub dirt on it, but I (also) had jitters through the first couple of innings.”
Bark (0-4), who pitched the complete game for Ellison (3-14, 0-3 8-5A), gave up six earned runs, nine hits while only striking out two in the loss. At the plate, though, Bark was a perfect 2 for 2 with an RBI single in the first inning that put Ellison on top 1-0 and an RBI double in a two-run third.
“Tyler’s our ace, he’s done well for us all season, and his hitting is coming around,” Ellison head coach Kyle Allred said.
But the Eagles didn’t lead for long, playing catch up after Tyler Keller scored sophomore Michael Rae Zapata on a sacrifice fly to left-center and Torres drilled the first offering from Bark for a long RBI single to about the same place to go on top 2-1.
“I’d heard how good Tyler Bark was and how he hit his locations, and I was just trying to hit the fastball,” Torres said. “And he gave me a fastball on the first pitch I took and I got a base hit off it. The next time I was just trying to put the ball in play.”
Heights (8-7, 2-1) added one more run in the bottom of the first on a delayed double-steal when pinch runner Will Lopez, in place of Torres, faked a steal to second to draw a run-down and allow junior Caleb Dean to score from third.
From the mound, Torres allowed just three hits, including two RBI doubles, while Dean closed the door on the Eagles, striking out five in three innings with four walks and just a triple to Rodriguez (1-for-2, 2 runs) against him. But, again, walks continued to plague Heights as three straight walks by Dean led two directly to runs in a two-run fifth, as the team finished with seven.
Of course, Torres wasn’t the only underclassman to come through for Heights, as Zapata was 1 for 3 with a pair of RBIs, the last coming on a safety-squeeze bunt single to score Miles Munro in the bottom of the sixth inning and give the Knights a two-run cushion, 7-5, entering the final frame.
“(Munro) has great speed and we knew if we got the opportunity there — it was a great bunt on Zapata’s part, he executed it well — and he got a little bit of a late break but we got in there,” Cunningham said of the play.
But it wasn’t all about the younger players. Knights senior first baseman Robby Sluss was 2 for 4 at the plate, including an RBI triple in a two-run fourth inning to give Heights a 6-3 advantage and allow Cunningham to turn to Dean on the mound. Ethan Schaefknocker was 1 for 3 with an RBI double and two runs scored for Ellison.