COPPERAS COVE — Matt Smith wanted to make a play, but he also intended to prove a point.
After going 0 for 2 in his opening at-bats, the Harker Heights junior knew something had to change when he stepped to the plate in the top of the seventh inning.
The Knights were in a scoreless tie at Copperas Cove, where only three hits were recorded between the teams through the first six innings.
Facing a full count, however, that changed.
Smith connected on a leadoff single, and five batters later, teammate Jacob Mitchell drew a walk with the bases loaded, sending the second baseman across home plate for the only run in a 1-0 victory.
Following the win, Smith admitted he delivered more than just a hit.
“Earlier in the game,” Smith said, “we were saying how it was time to start getting some runs, and somebody had to start it.
“Being a returner, I had to show the team that I could step up and I could get a clutch play.”
The Knights (10-12- 1, 7-3 District 8-6A) finished with just three hits and rounded second base only once prior to Smith reaching third late in the contest as a result of two consecutive walks following his at-bat. Then, Bulldawgs pitcher Jaylen Smith, who had six strikeouts and only four walks, including two intentional, in the previous six innings, allowed the game-winning RBI.
Although unconventional, in a heated defensive battle, Harker Heights head coach Randy Culp had no issue with the way things played out.
“Jacob had a tough at-bat,” he said, “and then he got the walk, but a RBI is an RBI, and a win is a win.
“We’re going to take them any way we can get them.”
Throughout the night, both starting pitchers shined.
En route to the victory, Knights senior Daniel Cole delivered 11 strikeouts before reaching the pitch-count limit, and the only hit he surrendered came in the third inning and was followed by five consecutive strikeouts. In the opposite half of the innings, Smith only allowed two hits — a pair of singles in the first and fifth innings — before Smith’s game-changing infield shot.
And Cole craved the intensity.
“Jaylen is a great pitcher,” he said. “But these are the games you live for. I’ve been going through this for four years now in high school, and I’m coming to realize that high school baseball is one of a kind, especially here in Texas.
“I’m cherishing every moment of it and not taking any of it for granted.”
Harker Heights earned an equally narrow victory against the Bulldawgs (11-12, 4-6) on Wednesday, winning 4-3 at home, and after sweeping the series, Matt Smith feels the team is finally reaching its potential.
“The whole team is maturing as ball players,” he said. “I’m really proud of these guys.
“We stayed calm and collected all night, and we’re shaping up to become the team we know we can be.”