CORSICANA — In a three-game series that was tight throughout, it was no surprise to see the Class 6A area-round playoff set between Harker Heights and Allen go to extra innings in Game 3 on Saturday.
In a contest the slightest mistake, the smallest break or one play being made had such a high impact, it was decided in the eighth. Unfortunately for the Knights, it was the Eagles who broke the tie.
With the bases loaded and one out in the home half of the frame, Troy Bauer perfectly placed a squeeze bunt between first and second base, allowing Dylan Ditzenberger to score from third as Allen escaped with a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 series win.
Ditzenberger led off the inning with a five-pitch walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Cole Maxwell was intentionally walked, and Joey Crisci moved the runners up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt.
Cole Latos was intentionally walked to load the bases for a possible force out at home plate, but Bauer’s bunt ended up in no-man’s land.
Jacob Mitchell provided an admirable performance on the mound for Harker Heights (15-15-1). The senior threw 7 1/3 innings, allowed two runs on five hits and eight walks and struck out one.
“I’m just really proud of Jacob Mitchell,” Knights head coach Randy Culp said. “He pitched a heck of a game. I’m also really proud of our defense.
“Who would’ve thought in Game 3, after the two we already played, that it would be a 1-1 ballgame in the eighth. Great plays were made on both sides and defensively, for us, we were able to get out of some jams. I can’t say enough about our effort today.
“We never quit, and we never laid down.”
Mitchell escaped what was the biggest jam of the game in the bottom of the seventh, as Taj Bickham drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a sac bunt by Judson Arrington. Bickham then stole third, but with one out, Mitchell induced consecutive groundouts right back to the mound by Allen’s Josh Simpson and Mason La Plante to send the game to extras.
“That’s a huge break,” Culp said. “Jacob did a great job of getting him (Simpson) out in front on an off-speed pitch to hit it right back to him. Then, we had two outs and it made a big difference, and it could’ve been the difference of the ballgame.
“That was incredible by Jacob.”
The Eagles (24-11) took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
La Plante hit a one-out infield single and stole second two batters later. With two outs, Cole Maxwell singled to left field to score La Plante.
The Knights tied the game in the top of the fourth.
Mitchell drew a one-out walk and was lifted for courtesy runner Kainoa Rillera. After a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Spencer Young singled to left before back-to-back wild pitches by Allen pitcher Jared Fowler allowed Rillera to advance to third and score.
Harker Heights was able to get runners into scoring position multiple times throughout the game, but was unable to cash in on all but one of those opportunities.
The Knights had a runner reach second in each of the second, third, seventh and eighth innings, and even though they tied the game in the fourth, they ended the frame with runners at second and third.
“Things just didn’t go our way at the plate in certain situations here and there, and we could’ve scored a few more runs,” Culp said. “But that’s baseball. That’s how it goes. We just didn’t get the hit we needed.”
Fowler started the game on the mound for Allen and pitched seven-plus innings and allowed a run on three hits and three walks while striking out eight.
Ty Chezem was awarded the winning decision, as he entered the game in the eighth with one runner on and recorded three outs for the Eagles on a sac bunt by Jackson Rinehart, a flyout and a groundout.
Daniel Cole, Sean Hart, Justin Gordon, Jackson Owens, Andres McAdams and Mitchell suited up for the final time for Harker Heights on Saturday, and Culp said the group left a lasting legacy for Knights baseball.
“They’ve given their blood, sweat and tears,” Culp said. “They’ve given their all to our program. We did things in their era that have never been done.
“They have a special place in our history. The first time we ever made it to the second round was with them as sophomores. Our first district championship was with them as juniors, and this was the first time we’ve ever won a second-round ballgame.
“They have a great legacy to look back on.”