HARKER HEIGHTS — Sam Weston had given up next to nothing against Harker Heights on Tuesday — just one run scored on a balk that Ellison head coach Ty Opperman said didn’t even count as far as he was concerned.
And when Michael Rae Zapata hit a ball slicing into the gap in left-center in the sixth, it looked, for a second, like it was going to stay that way.
Instead, the ball went off the outstretched glove of the centerfielder, giving Rae the first extra-base hit by either team in the game, an RBI double that put Heights ahead for good in a 3-1 win Tuesday at Harker Heights High School.
“It felt really good,” Zapata said of the game-winning hit. “We came through when we needed to and stepped up, played a good game. Sam pitched great. It was a great performance on both sides.”
After Zapata busted the game open with the only extra-base hit of the night, Daniel Cole helped himself out by driving in an insurance run on a sacrifice fly for a 3-1 lead.
The freshman picked up the first district win of his career by striking out eight and walking just two — and by having faith in his offense after Ellison tied it in the fifth.
“I knew I had to just finish off the inning,” Cole said. “I knew I had the top of my order coming up, and I knew we were going to get some runs. You can’t win off one run.”
The way Weston was pitching, however, one run was hard to come by.
Prior to the sixth, the only run Weston had given up came on a balk in the bottom of the third that allowed Matt Sluss — who worked a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a stolen base and an error — to score for a 1-0 lead.
Through five, Weston allowed just one hit, two walks and struck out seven.
“We had a great bullpen session yesterday, and he came out tonight, he threw exactly what I asked him to,” Opperman said. “He executed the gameplan against the hitters, attacked their weaknesses. He did a great job against a great hitting team.”
Yet despite Weston striking out the side in order in the fifth — and Ellison tying the game on an Anthony Spencer sac fly — Heights rallied in the sixth as Tyler Torres drew a walk before Zapata drove him in.
After an intentional walk to Caleb Dean, former-Eagle Stephen Shaw loaded the bases with a single off the wall in left before Cole hit his sacrifice fly.
The resiliency against a game Ellison team is what impressed Heights head coach Glenn Cunningham the most Tuesday.
“I was pleased the way we found a way to win late,” Cunningham said. “We came on and we made adjustments at the plate and we finally hit the ball a little bit and stayed back and got some clutch hits.”
Despite remaining winless in league play, Opperman said he was pleased with the way his Eagles (3-13, 0-3 8-5A) are playing also.
“We’ve played a tough schedule this year,” Opperman said. “We haven’t had an easy game yet and our record is nowhere indicative of our team.”
Cunningham agreed with Opperman, which is why, in the end, he was happy that Heights (10-5, 2-1) was able to pull out the close win behind the bat of Zapata and the arm of Cole.
“You’ve got to win these close ones, too,” Cunningham said. “You can’t just go out and thump everybody. So we’ll learn a lesson here and it will do us well down the stretch because we know we’re capable of winning the tight ball games too.”
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