Ethan Schaefnocker was effectively wild and Chris Ackles was selectively efficient.
The combination provided Ellison with just the right mix of baseball magic as the struggling Eagles upset then third-place Harker Heights 5-1 on Tuesday to stay alive in the District 8-5A playoff hunt.
Schaefnocker allowed 12 Knights batters to reach base, loading the bases in three separate innings, but reaped the benefits of a wild and windy night that included a rare 9-3-6 triple play in the top of the fifth inning.
“That game was pretty hectic, I think the baseball gods were just watching us this game,” Schaefnocker said. “My guys were behind me the whole time, they made every play, we knew we had to win this game.”
Ackles, who started the triple play on a sharp line drive to right field, led the way at the plate, batting 2 for 3 with three RBIs, including turning on the first pitch for a two-RBI triple that sparked a four-run fifth inning for the Eagles (7-18, 4-6 8-5A).
After hitting Heights’ No. 9 hitter Miles Munro in the shin to open the fifth inning, Schaefnocker surrendered a single to Robby Sluss before battling Cody Plagens through an eight-pitch at-bat, including five foul balls.
But with Munro on second and Sluss on first, Plagens ripped pitch nine for a hard line drive to shallow right field. Except, with a strong wind blowing in, the ball carried right into the glove of Ackles, who then threw to first baseman Tyler Bark, who in turn fired to shortstop Stephen Shaw at second for the triple play.
“It was actually a mistake, because we threw behind the runner to first and that’s what allowed us to get the runner at second,” Eagles coach Kyle Allred said.
The triple play, especially one hit to the outfield, is one of the rarest plays in the baseball, occurring less than 700 times in the history of the Major Leagues.
“In 18 years of coaching, I’ve never been apart of a triple play,” Allred said.
“It was pretty unbelievable,” Schaefnocker admitted.
For the game, Schaefnocker walked four and hit five batters, but allowed just two hits while striking out five in a 110-pitch effort over 5 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season. After surrendering his first run of the game when he belted opposing starter Kyle Randall with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Schaefnocker was replaced by senior Tyler Bark, who promptly forced pinch-hitter Reggie Thomas to ground into an inning-ending force-out at second. In all, the Knights (11-11, 5-5) stranded eight batters, 10 if counting the two on base before the triple play.
“The triple play? I have no idea. We just ran through stop signs, and that’s just kids (that) were just trying to make something happen and they got a little anxious,” Knights head coach Glenn Cunningham said. “The bottom line is we just didn’t hit the ball.”
Schaefnocker needed every bit of magic he got after loading the bases with one out in the top of the first inning. But Knights catcher Tyler Keller lined-out to Shaw, who then flipped the ball to second baseman Angelo Rodriguez for an inning-ending double-play to get out of trouble.
A similar situation happened an inning later when Schaefnocker hit Michael Zapata, walked Jomar Velez-Peirera and then intentionally walked Sluss with two outs before catching Plagens looking for an inning-ending strikeout in the second.
“Those innings like that usually blow up on teams, and it probably should have blown up on us,” Allred said. “But you expect that from a senior, and that’s why I put him on the mound in a big game.”