Daniel Cole is no stranger to being in high-pressure spots on the diamond.
Cole just happened to be in another one Tuesday night at Ellison, and the Harker Heights senior came up big for his team.
With two runners on and two outs in the top of the seventh inning and looking for insurance, Cole turned on a 2-0 pitch over the heart of the plate and sent it flying over the wall in left field for a three-run home run, and Harker Heights went on to defeat the Eagles 8-3.
“This win is big; it’s huge for us,” Cole said. “This is probably our biggest crosstown rival, so we came out with a lot of intensity and a lot of anxiousness. It took us a few innings to kind of settle into the game, because there’s just so much at stake.
“Once that happened, though, we settled in and started playing like us — making less errors and putting the ball in play more.”
Cole’s blast in the seventh helped ensure the third win on the hill in District 8-6A competition for starting pitcher Jacob Mitchell. The senior threw 6 2/3 innings, allowed three runs — two earned — on four hits and five walks with 10 strikeouts.
Mitchell was pulled in the bottom of the seventh after reaching his pitch-count limit, and Justin
Gordon recorded the final out for the Knights on a weak grounder back to the mound.
While Harker Heights preserved yet another quality start by Mitchell, it spoiled one for Eagles starting hurler Garet Douglas. Douglas threw five innings and surrendered four runs — three earned — on three hits and five walks while striking out nine.
“It was a pitching duel until we had some big hits late,” Knights head coach Randy Culp said.
“Garet really threw well for them, and we had some huge hits by Mitchell and Tre (Martin) there in the fifth. That’s big time — just to get one run early in the game was incredible because the way he was throwing tonight, it was going to be real tough to get a run off him.
“Jacob — that was a real gutsy performance by him. He went out in the seventh at 101 pitches and had nine pitches left and hammered six strikes in a row. That’s exciting for me just to see kids step up like that in a big moment.”
Runs were hard to come by early on.
Harker Heights (8-11- 1, 5-2 8-6A) got on the board first in the top of the third, as Zach Elizondo scored on a two-base error off the bat of Jackson Rinehart to put the Knights ahead 1-0.
Ellison (9-12- 1, 3-4) scored a run in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly to right by Alijha Alford, scoring Kenneth Rodriguez to tie the contest at 1-1.
In the top of the fifth, Harker Heights scored three times on an RBI double down the left-field line by Mitchell and a two-run single to center by Martin for a 4-1 lead.
In the bottom half of the frame, Brian Gardner scored on a wild pitch and Preston Mills plated another run on a bases-loaded walk to pull the Eagles within 4-3.
The score remained the same until the top of the seventh, when Kaven Jones scored on an error before Cole’s three-run shot put the Knights up by five for good.
Cole finished the night 1 for 3 at the plate with two walks and two runs scored. Mitchell was 1 for 2 with two walks, and Rinehart was 2 for 4 with a walk.
For Ellison, Edward Eakin was 1 for 3 with a double and a walk, and Douglas went 1 for 3 with a walk.
“I’m always comfortable on the days Garet pitches,” Eagles head coach Ty Oppermann said of Douglas. “They did a good job of getting his pitch count up a little bit, and we had a chance to get out of a couple of innings to keep his pitch count down. The pitch count rules make things different nowadays, and when you have a chance to get off the field and get out of there, it’s just more important these days.
“We just didn’t get off the field as quickly as we should’ve, and it added probably 20-25 pitches.
"Instead of going seven innings like he would normally do, he was only able to go five. He’s real competitive and he’s going to be around the plate, and I thought he did a great job tonight.”
The two teams will face one another again Friday at Harker Heights at 7 p.m.