By Matthew Girard
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – In a matter of minutes Harker Heights' Ryan Balentine went from goat to hero as the shortstop hit in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Knights a 3-2 victory against Belton on Thursday at Harker Heights High School.
After the Knights (15-10, 4-3 District 13-5A) took a 2-1 lead on a Cody Dunn RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers (13-8, 4-3) tied the game at 2 in the seventh inning after Balentine couldn't handle a sharply hit ball off the bat of Shane Hoelscher that allowed Buck Lopez to score from second.
In the Knights' seventh, catcher Jordan Carey led off the inning with a double. Harker Heights coach Glenn Cunningham then sent in Tommy Speigmon to pinch run and he moved to third on David Kipp's sacrafice fly to center.
Balentine, who went 0-for-2 with a RBI, worked the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, Balentine sent the ball to center field allowing Speigmon to tag up and score the game-winner.
"I was really nervous," Balentine said. "I knew I had to get the ball to the outfield and score the run from third. I was just trying to put the ball in play."
Cunningham said hitting in the game-winning run should give Balentine a boost.
"He's been struggling a little bit with the bat, but I expect (the game-winner) to help his confidence," Cunningham said. "It was a great at-bat for him to battle with two strikes."
The game was the second in as many days for the Knights, who snapped a three-game skid with the win against Belton.
"We had to go to A&M last night, then a late trip back and then a tough challenge of having to play Belton," Cunningham said. "(Belton) is tougher than nails, they've got a great tradition and they know how to win over there, but it was a great win for our kids. It was a great effort on their part to go in and battle like they did."
Through the first four innings, Belton starter Daniel Moose and Harker Heights starter Korey Wacker were nearly untouchable as both only allowed five combined hits and zero runs.
The Tigers then broke through in the fifth inning with a RBI double by Nathan Shipp.
Despite giving up the game-tying run with two outs, Cunningham said we didn't want anyone else on the mound for the Knights.
"Korey was great on the mound," Cunningham said. "He battled the whole night and kept (Belton) off. He's a bulldog. His pitch count wasn't up, so we thought he still had some gas left in him and we don't doubt that guy much. In a tight game like that, I want the ball in his hands."
Wacker picked up the win by throwing a complete game and striking out 10 on the night. Trevor Alaniz picked up the loss for the Tigers.
Balentine said the win against Belton was huge, but the Knights are looking ahead.
"We are looking to go 6-0 right now and try to make it to the playoffs," Balentine said.
Contact Matthew Girard at email@example.com or (254) 501-7569