Daniel Cole is no stranger to big moments.
The Harker Heights senior has played at the varsity level for four years now, and there is no one better prepared for a clutch situation.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning at Ellison on April 4, and with his team leading 5-3, Cole belted a three-run home run to left field to ensure an 8-3 victory for the Knights.
Cole’s late-inning heroics earned him a nomination for the Freddy’s-KDHpressbox.com Player of the Week award, and fans voted him the honor with 43 percent of the tally.
Despite his successes on the diamond, though, Cole is still humbled.
“It’s always a huge honor, mainly because it’s voted on by my friends, my family, my peers at school and even people I don’t know,” Cole said. “Walking in the hallways, people walked up to me, who I don’t even know, and told me, ‘I just wanted to tell you I voted for you.’ That really makes the award even more special.
“It means a lot more to me because it’s really a community thing, and that’s just cool to me.”
Cole came up big again last week against Copperas Cove.
In a big series against the Bulldawgs, Cole hit the game-winning home run with the game tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth, and he then took the mound at pitcher and struck out the side to record a save.
On Friday, Cole started the game on the hill and shined once again. He threw 6 2/3 innings in a 1-0 win over Copperas Cove while striking out 11 and only allowing one hit and walking three.
Succeeding on the mound is commonplace for Cole, but hitting has not always been his strongest suit. This season, however, has been different.
“That was huge,” Cole said of his homer against Ellison. “Coming up late in the game, I had hit the ball hard earlier but didn’t find any holes. I think that’s where I’ve improved the most, though, because I used to get frustrated and tried to change something up with my approach.
“Coach (Randy) Culp just told me to stick with it and trust it, and I’ll find some holes. I got the pitch that I wanted and that I was looking for in a 2-0 count, and I just did what coach Culp has been preaching to me all year. I got my foot down early, kept my hands up and exploded on the ball.”
Culp is not surprised, at all, about Cole’s success in the batter’s box this season. He has always had the talent, he just needed to get right mentally.
“Last year, he struggled at the plate and I think he was just trying to do too much,” Culp said. “This year, he has settled down and is keeping his weight back, and he’s helping us a lot more at the plate. I don’t think he’s the prototypical leadoff hitter, but in our situation, we’re just trying to get him as many at-bats as possible.
“As an opposing pitcher, I sure would hate having to start the game off by facing him. I think it helps us out in that respect, and he sets the tone for the game. It’s nice to have him there.”
And having Cole’s gifted arm on the mound has been a luxury for Culp and company the last four years.
Culp has put Cole on the rubber multiple times late in games, and he has heard a litany of coaches and players groan when they saw the 5-foot-11-inch right-hander approach the mound.
It’s rare that he doesn’t succeed, but he doesn’t dwell too much on it when things don’t go his way. After all, it’s baseball.
“The best part about this year is I’ve been more consistent,” Cole said. “Baseball is a game of ups and downs. You’re going to have your highs, your big moments, and you’re going to have your big lows — maybe making an error or striking out in a big situation.
“But the main thing is to not get too high or low. You’ve got to stay on a consistent plane.”
Others nominated for player of the week were Copperas Cove senior Amber Boyd, Killeen senior Cinque Sambula and Copperas Cove junior Jaylen Smith.