Michael Rae Zapata admitted that his hitless night weighed on him when he stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth Friday.
So instead of trying to overpower the wind, blowing in all night, and Ellison pitcher Sam Weston, dealing against the Knights for the second time this season, Zapata simply tried to put the ball in play.
The strategy paid off as Zapata, 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts to that point, punched a two-out, two-run single into right for what proved to be the game-winning runs in Harker Heights’ 5-3 win against the Eagles at Ellison High School.
“I just wanted to get on top again, just bring us back,” Zapata said. “It was a crazy game. I just wanted to redeem us.”
One batter before Zapata, Heights (15-7, 6-4 8-5A) had taken the lead on an error with the bases loaded that allowed Daniel Cole to score the go-ahead run.
Ellison got that run back in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Chris Ackles, but the Eagles weren’t able to rally after erasing a lead twice earlier in the game.
And as deflating as the ending was for Ellison, which fell two games behind fourth-place Heights in the standings, Eagle head coach Ty Opperman said he was proud of his kids for an unbelievable effort.
“It’s just one of those games that you don’t get to be a part of very often,” Opperman said. “And I know our kids are down because we didn’t come out on top of it.
“But that’s one of the better high school games that I’ve been a part of in 17 years of coaching.”
Hits were hard to come by and runs even harder as the game remained scoreless until the fifth when Landon Persick, who played for Ellison last year, chopped an RBI single up the middle to score Stephen Shaw, also a former Eagle, on what was just the Knights’ second hit of the game.
Weston went the entire nine innings for Ellison, turning in one of his finest performances of the season despite the loss. Before Zapata came up with the game-winning hit, Weston had held the top half of the Knights’ lineup hitless.
“He hit his spots, he jammed them, his changeup was working good tonight, he was getting them out front,” Opperman said. “He did an excellent job of throwing the pitches, hitting the spots that I was calling.”
Ellison tied it up in the bottom of the frame on a Darius Campbell RBI single only for Heights to take the lead again on a Cole sacrifice fly in the sixth.
But Ellison rallied again, this time knotting the score on a controversial balk call that scored a run with the bases loaded.
Yet Heights, which had just one out when the balk occurred, responded to the challenge as pitcher Caleb Dean retired the next two batters to end the inning.
The final inning had its controversy as well, as the Knights’ second batter, Tyler Torres, reached on a close call at first.
He later scored what proved to be the game-winning run.
But with the season winding down and the district race tightening up, Heights was simply happy to emerge with an all-important victory, no matter how it happened.
“We’ll take these any way we can get them,” Heights head coach Glenn Cunningham said with a smile.