By Matthew Girard
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Round Rock showed off its No. 9 ranking with a 12-6 bi-district playoff series-winning victory against the Harker Heights Knights on Saturday at Harker Heights High School.
With the help of two wild pitches in the fourth inning, a solo home run by Ray Burnham and a two-run blast by Jeremy Clouse in the sixth the Dragons (29-4) advanced to the area round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Knights, who were making their third state playoff appearance in school history, led the Dragons 4-2 heading into the top of the fourth inning after a RBI single by David Kipp and a two-out, 2 RBI double by first baseman Cody Dunn in the bottom of the third.
Although Heights' starter Korey Wacker had a two-run lead, the Dragons quickly loaded the bases with one out. Wacker then walked in a run and Round Rock's Burnham scored on a ground-out to tie the game at 4-4. With two outs, Brett Neely and Alex Girndt both scored on consecutive wild pitches from Wacker and the Dragons re-took the lead for good 6-4. Round Rock added another six runs in the top of the sixth inning, highlighted by Burnham and Clouse's rockets over the left-field wall.
Heights' coach Glenn Cunningham said he was happy his team was competitive against the Dragons.
"We were in the game," Cunningham said. "We had that one inning and then in the sixth, they really flexed their muscles. It was a pretty good game up until then. We made some mistakes and we probably didn't play our best game, but these kids came out and met the challenge. They got after it."
Wacker picked up the loss and finished with four strikeouts, six walks and threw 116 pitches in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Cunningham said he wouldn't want anyone else starting for him on Saturday.
"He's been our bulldog the whole year and he's the reason we are here," Cunningham said. "He doesn't do it with stature, but he does it with a lot of heart and a lot of fight."
Despite the loss, the Knights were able to create some offense for themselves with the bunt.
"We tried to play a little bit different game," said Cunningham, whose Knights came into Saturday's game having only scored one run in their last three games. "We played a little small-ball and tried to bunt it around to see if we could manufacture some runs. I think it really helped our kids. It gave them a little confidence and got us going."
Cunningham didn't waste any time revealing his game plan after being no-hit the night before, as leadoff hitter Ryan Balentine bunted his way to safely to first on the second pitch of the game.
Heights used the bunt throughout the game, but its success was negated by base-running mistakes.
"The mistakes that we made were because we were hustling, not because we weren't in the game," Cunningham said. "For that I'm very proud of these guys and they will always be special."
Even though the Knights season is over, Cunningham praised his seniors for their competitive spirit and leadership.
"We will have some big holes to fill because those seniors put us in the right direction," Cunningham said.
Contact Matthew Girard at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569