HARKER HEIGHTS — Preston Mills had a rough outing on the mound Tuesday at home against the Knights, but he responded Friday in the second game of the set for Ellison.
Mills relieved starting pitcher Edward Eakin in the sixth inning and threw the final two frames, surrendering just two walks and striking out two to earn a save in a 5-2 victory for the Eagles.
“He’s a kid with a lot of pride,” Ellison head coach Ty Oppermann said. “He wanted back on the mound after what happened to him the other night. He took his fair share of ribbing from his teammates the last two days, but he just wanted to get back out there.
“When he gets that breaking ball working, that slider, he can throw everything else off of it. He was very confident tonight, and it was great to see a pitcher be that way.”
Mills also flashed some leather in the bottom of the fifth while playing right field.
With two runners on and one out, Zane Wallace connected on what looked to be a sure base hit to right for Harker Heights, but Mills ran it down and made a diving catch to save a run. Eakin then struck out the next hitter, and the Eagles escaped the inning unscathed.
Eakin earned the victory after going five innings and surrendering two earned runs on four hits and six walks while striking out nine on 109 pitches.
The Knights were patient at the plate, as they tried to work Eakin’s pitch count up, but Ellison did the same against Harker Heights ace Daniel Cole.
Cole went five innings, as well, and allowed three unearned runs on six hits and three walks with eight strikeouts on 108 pitches.
“Our hitters did a great job of executing our game plan of taking till you get a strike and get Cole’s pitch count up,” Oppermann said. “We figured if we could get him out of the game and be close in it, we had a chance — bullpen versus bullpen — of having a good matchup. The kids did a great job of taking till they had a strike and making him pitch and throw a lot of pitches.”
The strategy was similar for the Knights.
“Hats off to them,” Harker Heights head coach Randy Culp said of the Eagles. “I think both of us did a good job of running each other’s pitch count up and getting both guys out of there, and then they had some big hits.”
The Knights got on the board first in the bottom of the third.
After a walk by Spencer Young, a single by Jackson Rinehart and a walk by Tre Martin loaded the bases with two outs, Kaven Jones pulled a 1-2 pitch into left field for a two-out double, scoring Young and Rinehart to give Harker Heights an early 2-0 lead.
But that was all the Knights would get.
In the top of the fifth, Julien Jimenez drew a one-out walk, Garet Douglas singled to left and Eakin walked to load the bases for Ellison. Mills reached on an error at third that scored Jimenez, and William Tunstall drove an 0-2 pitch up the middle for a single to score Douglas and Eakin to put the Eagles up 3-2.
Ellison (10-12- 1, 4-4 District 8-6A) added to its lead in the top of the sixth, as Ty Hill scored from third on a wild pitch and Jimenez scored on a bases-loaded walk by Mills to put the Eagles ahead for good at 5-2.
“Our goal over this week was to split,” Oppermann said of the two-game set. “It ended up backwards than what we thought it was going to be with opportunities, because Cole is hard to get a win against. He’s a phenomenal young pitcher, and we knew our backs were against the wall a bit, but the kids played awesome.”
Culp said his team simply didn’t play well Friday, but there is still a long way to go.
“We left a lot of runners on base tonight,” Culp said, “and you can’t win like that unless you dominate on the mound. It just didn’t happen tonight, and it doesn’t happen that often with Daniel on the mound — he’s very solid.
“You can’t win games when you don’t execute, but we’ve still got a lot left in district.”
Both teams return to the field Tuesday. Ellison visits Killeen at 7 p.m., and Harker Heights (8-12-1, 5-3) hosts Copperas Cove.