Adam Valenta was faced with a daunting task on Friday night.
With Temple trailing Killeen 6-2 going into the third inning of its District 8-5A finale, the junior pitcher was sent to the mound to put out the fire.
Valenta did the job as he shut down the Kangaroos and the Wildcats came from behind to win 9-7, grabbing some momentum going into the postseason.
“Honestly I just wanted to keep a positive mind,” Valenta said. “I wanted to come in there and pitch my butt off. In the dugout it was energy. Everything was energy. I never saw any negativity. I knew I had a good defense out there and I knew they’d make plays for me.”
While a win over the Kangaroos (4-21-2, 1-13) would have clinched the district’s fourth and final playoff bid for Temple (8-16, 8-6), the Wildcats’ fate was decided about 13 miles away in Copperas Cove.
A few minutes before Temple ended a two-game skid, Harker Heights put the finishing touches on a 6-4 victory over the Bulldawgs. If Copperas Cove had won and the Wildcats had lost, the district’s last postseason slot would have been decided by a playoff.
“We would have taken it any way we could have gotten it to get in, obviously,” Temple head coach Craig Martin said. “To be able to win a game and do it because we earned it as opposed to having to wait for somebody else to help us is a huge accomplishment for our guys. It gives us confidence and we desperately needed some.”
While Valenta got the game back under control, Temple chipped into Killeen’s lead in the fourth when Chase Truelove singled to bring home Ryshad Johnson and Tye Ochoa and make it 6-4. Killeen threatened to extend its lead in the fifth when Valenta gave up a two-out walk to load the bases. The junior bounced back and got a ground out to the mound to escape the inning.
The Wildcats paid Valenta back in the sixth when Ricky Ortiz hit a two-out single to left field, scoring Johnson and Chase Truelove to tie the game.
“When he pitched the ball, I knew it would be good to score at least one or both if I had to,” Ortiz said about the key at bat. “It would be good to just get a hit and get on base, keep the inning going for us, and come out with a victory.”
After Preston Hinkle singled to right field off Killeen reliever Chris Barber, Travis Lock drove the first pitch he saw into left field, scoring Ortiz and giving Temple a 7-6 lead.
An RBI single by Truelove that scored Johnson and a sacrifice fly by Ortiz that scored Keion Seastrunk gave the Wildcats a pair of needed insurance runs in the seventh.
Killeen finally got to Valenta in the bottom of the inning when Jacob Hinojos single to left field to score Adrian Spencer. Devyn Darnell, who was on first after drawing a two-out walk, tried to take third on Hinojos’ hit but was thrown out on a relay throw from Lock to second baseman Reid Hesse to end the game.