Regardless of where it stands in the district race, the Harker Heights baseball team battles every time it takes the field.
“When you play games, you’re trying to win the game,” said Harker Heights head coach Randy Culp. “I don’t think we’re looking outside, playoff-wise and playoff scenarios, we’re just trying to take care of games that we can take care of.
“That’s all we can do is try and win games.”
That mentality helped Harker Heights on Tuesday as they went nine innings before they pulled out a walk-off victory against Ellison at home.
The Knights currently have a District 12-6A record of 6-8 following a 7-0 loss at Waco Midway on Thursday night that knocked them out of the 12-6A playoff race.
Heights’ record is just numbers to Jackson Rinehart, the Knights’ senior catcher who is determined to cap off his senior year on his terms.
“We always say this: We go as Jackson goes,” Culp saidd. “If he has a good game, we’ll have a good game, for the most part.
“We dictate off of how he does and that’s just what happens when you have your leader, who is your lead off, your catcher — he’s our team captain so we’re going to play as he plays.”
After tying the Eagles 6-6 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the game came down to Rinehart’s at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.
This was nothing new for the Knights’ senior, who in February signed to further his education and baseball career at Wharton County Junior College.
“It’s real exciting,” Rinehart said of getting the walkoff hit against Ellison. “I’ve done that a couple times over the last two years, so it’s always exciting to win.“
Culp agreed. “He’s done that so many times throughout his career for us. I think five or six walkoffs he’s had.
“If we had a record for it, he’d probably have it, but he does a great job for us.”
And while Rinehart is glad to know he can come through for the Knights when they need him most, he attributes their success as a collective effort.
“I mean we’re family so we might as well be playing together, working together — everything we do is together.
“It’s just a family thing I guess.”
For Rinehart, playing for Harker Heights truly is a family thing as his younger brother, Chan, is often found playing first base for the Knights.
“It’s awesome, I love playing with him,” the senior Rinehart said. “It’s going to suck not playing with him but we’re living it up right now playing with him.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
It’s not often that the opportunity to coach two brothers close in age comes along.
“In fact they’re the first that I’ve ever coached,” Culp said. “Now I do have two JV kids that are twins, but it’s been fun having them.
“They’re really competitive. It’s really interesting in the dugout.”
Culp has noticed that the close brotherly bond and competitive nature has impacted the entire Knights team.
“We’ve gotten better as the season has gotten on,” he said. “Our pitching has been spotty, but we’ve kind of figured out a rotation and how to piece the game together.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the game to get one hit and end it, or at least put ourselves in the chance to win it and we just didn’t get it. That’s kind of been our M.O. all year, is looking for that one hit, but I was really proud of Jackson.”
Rinehart sent the Knights toward the win from the beginning of Tuesday’s game with a leadoff single that allowed him to score when Chan came up to bat.
The younger Rinehart sent the ball into deep right field for a sacrifice fly that brought his brother home to give the Knights an early lead.
With one out and one runner on base, Rinehart worked the pitcher to a full count before knocking the ball into deep left field with a line drive just inside fair territory.
As soon as the ball left his bat, he knew the game was over.
“I’ve had a couple walk-offs before so seeing a hit like that, I know the run is going to score,” Rinehart said. “Every time it’s in that corner, we’re going to score.”
With two final games — at Temple on Tuesday and at Killeen on Friday — the senior struggled to find the words to describe what it means to end his high school playing career with this Harker Heights team.
“Speechless.” he said. “I can’t really say anything.”