WACO — Tre Martin had been waiting a long time to play in his first playoff game.
On Friday, he received that opportunity and cashed in on it.
With Harker Heights trailing Cedar Hill 4-3 with one out in the top of the sixth inning in the bi-district round of the Class 6A playoffs, Martin sent a 1-2 pitch up the middle and into center field for a two-run single to give the Knights a one-run lead.
That was all Daniel Cole and Jacob Mitchell would need on the mound the rest of the way, as Harker Heights kept the Longhorns’ offense at bay and earned a 5-4 victory to move on to area.
“I was just thinking see ball, hit ball,” Martin said. “I knew I had two strikes on me, but it only takes one swing. I was going to do anything I could to help the team.
“The pitch was away, and I just stayed through it and hit it up the middle. You can’t hit a ball much better than that.”
Knights head coach Randy Culp has been seeing Martin hit like that all year.
“Tre came through big; that was huge,” Culp said. “He’s an RBI machine. When we’ve got a guy on second base, he’s probably going to get a base hit up the middle and we’re going to score somebody. I’m really proud of him.”
Cole started the game at pitcher and threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed four runs – three earned – on even hits and three walks while striking out 10.
Cole worked out of a jam with two runners on in each of the third, fifth and sixth innings to keep Cedar Hill at bay.
“I couldn’t do anything out there without my team,” Cole said. “I had to start relying on my defense a little more. Toward the end of the season, I started hitting my groove and throwing better on the mound, and that happened again tonight.
“I started out hot, but they started to put the bat on the ball, and then I had to change my pitch sequence.”
After Cole reached the 110-pitch limit with one out and a man on second in the bottom of the seventh, Mitchell took over in relief and tallied two strikeouts to record a save and end the game.
“I was able to just come in and throw strikes, and that was all I had to do – just come in and throw strikes,” Mitchell said.
The only blemish for Cole on the night was a four-run bottom of the fourth that gave Cedar Hill a 4-2 lead. The Longhorns (17-11-1) registered three hits and one walk in the frame, while one base runner reached on an error.
Ihsan Jones plated the first run on an RBI single to center. Javon Cain later singled to center, as well, to plate two more runs for a 3-2 Cedar Hill advantage, and Anthony Casteneda plated the fourth on a hard smash to second that couldn’t be handled and went for an error.
With the Longhorns finally managing to catch up to his fastball, Cole had no problem adjusting and remaining comfortable. A big reason was the senior’s comfort level with his catcher, Jackson Rinehart.
“It’s crazy that this is his first year,” Cole said of the sophomore backstop. “He’s one of the babies of the team. I mess with him all the time, saying, ‘You know this is a big game. You better get your big-boy pants on.’
“He always comes up big for us.”
“I’ve always had 110-percent confidence in him,” Mitchell said. “He always works hard behind the plate for me, he always makes plays, and he gets it done on the offensive side as well as the defensive side. But he does that every night.”
Harker Heights (14-13-1) put the first notch on the scoreboard in the top of the first, as Kainoa Rillera scampered home from third on a wild throw into center field by Cedar Hill as Rinehart was stealing second.
The Knights improved their advantage to 2-0 in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly to center by Matt Smith.
The Longhorns immediately replied with four runs in the home half, but Harker Heights answered with three in the top of the sixth and took the lead for good.
After a walk by Smith, Andres McAdams was hit by a pitch and Cole singled to left to load the bases with one out.
Rinehart then executed a squeeze bunt and reached on an error on the play to pull the Knights within one, and Martin’s clutch two-run single followed.