By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Harker Heights Rangers will be ready for their district tournament starting Monday. Especially after two nail-biting, closing-moment victories over Belton Youth Baseball Association’s Belton Reds and previously undefeated Belton Rockies to win the Sophomore Division’s Belton Invitational Tournament, held at Jaycee Park last weekend.
The Rangers trailed 2-0 and 5-4 against the Reds and came back to win 6-5.
Belton their first two runs in the second inning when Jared Yost singled in Logan Drake and a bases-loaded walk to Francisco Escobedo scored Zach Guana.
Stellar defense kept the Rangers off the scoreboard before an RBI single and three-run homer gave Heights a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The Reds responded with three runs in the top of the fifth inning, Noah Williams singled and stole second on a catcher’s error. Alex Saldana singled in Williams to draw the Reds to within a run. Saldana stole second and third to set up Matthew Potter’s walk. Potter stole second base during Drake’s at-bat. The catcher misplayed a short grounder in front of the plate and Saldana and Potter scored to make the score 5-4.
The Red stopped a Rangers’ bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the sixth inning, as two walked and a fielder’s choice with one out and time winding down put the Red in a precarious scenario. Saldana got a strikeout and induced a groundout to stop the rally.
However, in the two-hour time limit, it didn’t bleed the clock. According to the home-plate umpire’s calculation, it missed expiring the clock by under 30 seconds. It forced the sixth inning to be played.
Escobedo and Austin Waldo walked with one out in the top of the sixth, but the Reds could not get them home.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Heights got a double, a walk and a single to load the bases. The Reds were able to a get a strikeout for the second out. But a base hit to centerfield had the Rangers running on the ping of the bat and Potter came up throwing. The throw was fielded by catcher Evan Burns just in front of the plate and his tag attempt was a split-second late, giving the Rangers the win 6-5.
The win set up the finals against the Rockies, who had a close, one-run victory over the Belton Kamikaze.
The Rockies trotted out Christian Castillo for the start on the hill. Castillo, a multi-sport athlete for North Belton Middle School and is one of a great number of middle school athletes moving up to Belton High School this fall, started the first inning solidly. He struck out two of the first four Ranger hitters.
Eoin O’Grady walked, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Castillo’s single to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Castillo stole second and third base, with Eric Rodriguez and Ruben Jiminez getting hit by pitches to load the bases with two outs. The Rangers induced a pop-out to end the inning.
Heights scratched out runs in the second and fourth innings. The Rockies responded in the fourth inning, as Josh Deheart had an RBI single two steals and scored on a wild pitch to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead.
Rodriguez came on in the top of the fifth to relieve Castillo. Rodriguez, with a wicked curveball, walked the first batter he faced, hit the second batter, got the third hitter on a swinging strikeout and jelly-legged the fourth hitter on a bender for a called strike three. An RBI single tied the score at 3-3.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Castillo gave the Rockies a chance to take the lead with a single. He advanced to third base on a pair of wild pitches, but was stranded when the next two hitters struck out.
After two more Rodriguez curveball strikeouts in the top of the sixth, the Rockies were in position to win the ball game with time winding down in the two-hour time limit game. Jiminez walked and stole two bases, while Payton Wilson walked and stole second. A pair of strikeouts ended the inning.
Following a quick seventh inning for the Rangers, the Rockies had a chance to win the game. With O’Grady on third, Castillo on second with one out and a 2-2 pitch to Dehart, the Rangers hurler uncorked a wild pitch and O’Grady broke for home for a shot at the winning run. O’Grady dove for home plate through the wet clay and was barely tagged out. Dehart struck out on the next pitch, sending the game into a Texas Tiebreaker scenario.
The Texas Tiebreaker scenario is when the last three batters who made outs in the previous inning are put on base and one out is placed on the board.
The Rangers wasted no time taking advantage of the situation, as a two-run double, a groundout and RBI single plated four runs. The Rockies could not score and the game ended with the Rangers winning 7-3.
The Rockies and Rangers will take part in a five-team Texas Teenage District 4 Tournament that starts Monday evening at Jaycee Park. The winner will join the Harker Heights Rangers squad at the 2015 Texas Teen Age 14U State Tournament in Harker Heights starting July 20.