By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
With a cake waiting at home for him, this wasn't how Tyler Michalek had hoped to celebrate his 18th birthday.
But after loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the score tied 6-6, the first-year varsity pitcher from Harker Heights had no choice but to deal with it.
And with a strikeout and a popout to second, it looked like Michalek might get himself out of the jam no worse for wear.
"It was a mess, it did not look good," Harker Heights coach Glenn Cunningham said, "and a fly ball, squeeze bunt, anything and that anything happened."
"Anything" came courtesy of Waco University cleanup hitter Michael Jiminez, who beat out an infield blooper to Knights second baseman Caleb Dean to plate Trojans teammate Dominic Deleon from third for the walk-off 7-6 win Saturday evening in the championship game of the Wolf Pack Classic at Shoemaker.
"It's tough to swallow, but it's a learning experience," Michalek said. "I want the pressure on me, I want to win the game, so it was nice to have that, but at the same time, when you lose, it's that much worse."
Called on to close out a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the sixth, after Heights put together a four-run third inning to pull ahead, Michalek worked himself out of an early jam by inducing a 4-6-3 double play and then getting the final out on a pop-out to short.
But then Jiminez struck in the seventh, drilling a one-out double to left field to start the rally. The next batter, University's Freddie Rios followed with a liner to straight-away center field that Heights senior captain J.T. Gilmore struggled to field cleanly, allowing Jiminez to score the game-tying run despite originally holding up at third on Rios' single.
"It's one of those things, you're coming hard and if that ball doesn't stay on the ground, you're not going to make that play, and he's trying to throw the tying run out," Cunningham said. "He made a good play on it, the ball just kind of bounced out there for a bad hop. If it stays flat and smooth, he's got a chance to make that play."
After blasting their way to the tournament championships, outscoring their first two opponents by a combined 24-4, the Knights (6-3-1) came out hot to start the game, plating a pair of runs in the top of the first inning when Gilmore scored on an error and sophomore Damien May drilled an RBI double down the left field line for a quick 2-0 lead.
But University responded by doubling up Heights' opening salvo when leadoff hitter Edward Ibarra scored on a wild pitch from starter Zach Mosley, Jiminez (3-for-4, 2 RBIs) following with a one-out RBI double and Deleon added an RBI single for a 4-2 lead after one frame.
"We gave them too many opportunities," Cunningham said. "It's like in the first inning, when you get up 2-0, you've got to pitch with a lead. And we didn't do that, we didn't step up and we kind of opened the gates for them a bit."
Heights answered with a four-run third when Emery Atkisson knocked in Gilmore on an RBI single, then scored along with Stefan Flores on a two-RBI triple from Mays (2-for-4, 3 RBIs), who in turn scored on a bloop single to right-center from Cody Plagens for a 6-4 lead.
But after putting together eight hits over the first three innings, the Knights' bats went cold, only registering a pair of cheap singles over the final five innings.
"I thought we pressed a bit when the game got a little bit tight there at the end," Cunningham said. "I think they have to learn how to compete (with a lead), relax a little bit and still play within themselves."
Copperas Cove 7, Shoemaker 5, 5 inn. - At Shoemaker, the Bulldawgs struck for all seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings, including five in the fifth, and rallied to beat the host Grey Wolves.
Ty Johnson plated a pair with a bases-loaded groundout in the top of the fifth and a two-out error by Shoemaker second baseman Jamie Funk allowed two more runs to score as Cove took a 6-4 lead.
Austin Greene earned the win for Cove, going the distance while registering eight strikeouts to just two walks. Roberto Delgado, who had a 2-RBI single in Shoemaker's three-run third, took the loss.
Killeen 4, Little-River Academy 2 - At Shoemaker, John Rechtorovic had a two-RBI double in the bottom of the first as the Roos plated all four runs in the opening frame.
Josh Allyn registered the win for Killeen.