WACO — Just as Harker Heights head coach Glenn Cunningham predicted, the Knights played District 7-5A runner-up Midlothian closer in Game 2 on Friday than they did in the series opener just a day earlier.
But while Heights missed its opportunities to score runs in bunches at Waco ISD Sports Complex, Midlothian, for the second straight night, did not.
The end result was an 8-1 victory for the Panthers that ended Heights season in the bi-district round for the second consecutive year.
Heights ends its season with a record of 18-10 while Midlothian (27-4) moves on to face the winner of Colleyville Heritage-Lewisville Hebron in the area round.
After the game Friday, Panther head coach Ray Hydes wanted to give Heights its just due before turning his attention to the area round.
“I thought those kids came out and they played really hard, and Coach Cunningham does a great job with those kids,” Hydes said. “We talked about it all the way here that they were going to come out and fight. They weren’t going to lay down. They’ve got a good club, and we respect those guys 100 percent.”
After Midlothian went up 1-0 on a Matt Heck RBI single in the first, one of the defining plays of the game for Heights came when Caleb Dean turned on a full-count pitch for a potentially game-changing three-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
But instead of going up two runs, Heights saw the ball sail just foul before Midlothian starter Jimmy Fouse retired the next three batters to end the inning.
“We had some opportunities, just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it to fall in,” Cunningham said. “Caleb’s ball down the line, just a couple of feet foul, you know that’s a big three-run homer early in the game. Kind of gives us some confidence, kind of gets us going.”
Instead, Fouse settled in, allowing just two hits over the next four innings as his team clung to a 1-0 lead.
Heck finally gave the Panthers breathing room when he stroked a two-run shot in the top of the fifth to give Midlothian a 3-0 advantage.
Heck, who battled the flu all the way up to the start of the series Thursday, said he didn’t feel a thing as he single-handedly staked his team to the early lead.
“Once the adrenaline starts kicking in you don’t really feel anything,” Heck said. “I just kind of try to zone everything else out.”
Midlothian busted the game open in the next inning, as Blake Barr and Ethan Davis ripped back-to-back RBI doubles for a 5-0 lead.
JB Garrett added an RBI single two batters later to make it 6-0.
Heights, however, had a chance to pull close in the bottom of the frame when it loaded the bases with no outs after a Wilson Owens RBI single to left.
But Fouse calmly retired the next three batters to preempt a Heights rally one last time.
“We had to fight,” Hydes said. “They hit some balls that just could easily have turned this game around that we were fortunate to catch.”
For a Heights team with high aspirations at the start of the year, a first-round sweep wasn’t the way it had hoped to end its season.
But Cunningham was more than pleased with the season his young team had after rallying for the No. 3 seed and ending the regular season with six straight wins to tie the school record.
“What a great season for these young kids,” Cunningham said. “They were young. We had a young ball club. It was a great season for them, something to build on.”