HARKER HEIGHTS — It was an old-fashioned pitching duel Friday night between the host Knights and visiting Belton in their District 8-6A opener.
Both starting hurlers recorded double-digit strikeouts, and the two teams combined for just nine hits.
With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, however, Harker Heights was able to scratch two runs across the plate on a pair of wild pitches and held on for a 3-1 victory.
Jackson Rinehart came through with one of the biggest plays of the game in the home half of the sixth.
Jacob Mitchell led off the frame with a walk and was replaced at first base by courtesy runner Kainoa Rillera and, after a strikeout, Rinehart laid down a perfect one-out bunt between the pitcher and first base and reached for a single.
Knights head coach Randy Culp said getting a bunt down against a pitcher like the Tigers’ Shane Mejia is very difficult.
“We hadn’t gotten one down all game,” Culp said. “He’s a tough guy to bunt on because of his velocity and he keeps the ball up, so those guys will raise up with it and pop it up or bunt a line drive. But that was a huge bunt by Jackson, and he did a heck of a job behind the plate.
“He blocked many balls that could have been wild pitches. He does a great job handling our pitchers back there, too, so I’m really proud of him.”
Jackson was lifted for courtesy runner Justin Gordon, and both he and Rillera eventually came around to score on wild pitches by Mejia and reliever Dylan Bloomquist.
But, overall, the night belonged to Mejia and Mitchell on the mound.
Mitchell threw a complete game for Harker Heights (4-9- 1, 1-0 8-6A) while giving up just one run on five hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts.
“Jacob came through with a huge performance tonight,” Culp said. “He came out and just had ice water in his veins and went to work, and he hit his pitch limit on the last batter. It worked out for us.”
Mitchell gave a lot of credit to the Knights’ defense.
“I felt great,” he said, “but I couldn’t have gotten anywhere without my defense behind me. They played exceptional. They absolutely had a great game defensively, and the crowd was awesome; they kept me going the whole game.
“It feels great, and it’s always good to beat Belton. My pitches were working, but I’ve got to thank my coaches. They scouted the hitters and knew what pitches to call, and I wouldn’t have had any clue without them and their expertise.”
Mejia, a southpaw, tossed 5 2/3 innings for the Tigers (5-9, 0-1), surrendering three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out 15.
“It was a classic pitching duel,” Belton head coach Mark Krueger said. “Both pitchers did great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the timely hits we needed to.
“I thought Shane did great. Unfortunately, he just didn’t get the run support from us tonight.”
The Tigers scored their lone run in the top of the first. Breck Potvin led off with a double to deep center field, reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Logan Earl and scored on an infield single deep in the hole up the middle by Trey Bell.
Harker Heights immediately responded with a run in the bottom of the first. Daniel Cole drew a leadoff walk and reached second on a wild pitch. After consecutive strikeouts, Mitchell tallied an RBI single to center field to plate Cole and tie the contest up at 1-1.
“We answered back,” Culp said. “That’s something we talk about all the time. If somebody scores on us, we’ve got to answer back. We did that, and little did we know it was going to be zeroes all the way to the sixth.
“I’m proud of the kids.”
The two teams will see one another again Friday, as Belton will host the Knights at 7 p.m.