Ellison senior Felix Marbury (1) jumps onto home plate while celebrating with his teammates after hitting a solo home run against Harker Heights on Tuesday at Harker Heights. Ellison won 10-4.
By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS — A week ago, Ellison and Harker Heights seemed headed in different directions.
The Knights were flying high atop the District 12-5A standings following a 2-1 upset of mighty Belton.
The Eagles were still winless following district-opening losses to Bryan and A&M Consolidated.
But seven days later and a 10-4 victory Tuesday over host Heights, Ellison sent a statement to its neighboring rival.
“We wanted to come out and show them who really is the best team in district,” Eagles senior pitcher K.J. Stark said after scattering seven hits and nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings for the win.
Winners of two straight, Ellison (13-7, 2-2) moved back into contention with those same Knights (14-5, 2-2), who have gone the other way getting outscored 24-8 in back-to-back losses while committing 10 errors — including five against the Eagles.
“Every game is a playoff game for us and when we put pressure on them, pressure will bust a pipe any night,” said Ellison No. 3 hitter Greg Greene.
At the plate, Greene was a steady offensive force for the Eagles, reaching base all five at-bats, finishing 2-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs against the Knights.
“I’d rather be lucky than good any day,” Greene said, referring to some ribbing from Stark. “I feel like if I get on base, I’m going to put pressure on a lot of pitchers so people behind me can get hits.”
And that’s what they did as Ellison’s No. 3-5 hitters combined to hit 4-for-11 accounting for half of the team’s offense with five RBIs and five runs scored.
It didn’t hurt that the Eagles were able to jump on Heights starter Hunter Mayo in the top of the first for two runs as senior catcher Justin Dingman knocked in Jose Hernandez with an RBI single and Greene scored on a passed ball during the following at-bat.
“We’ve played Heights — me, Greg and Dingman — for four years, and we know if you put pressure on them early, they bust,” Stark said. “So that’s what we wanted to do, jumped on them early and they busted like we knew (they would).”
Effectively using his curveball to keep the Heights batters off balance all night, Stark battled through some arm trouble and a two-run first inning to face only four over the minimum in four scoreless innings before running into trouble again in the bottom of the sixth.
“Our approach tonight was not good,” Heights coach Glenn Cunningham said. “You have a guy throwing that curveball, we’ve got to go the other way with it, and we were pulling the ball.”
The Knights, on the other hand, couldn’t find any consistency either at the plate or on the mound, as Mayo lasted just three innings with a three-run third after Greene scored on an error, pinch runner Chase Ransdell came home on a passed ball and Pedro Varela knocked in DJ Fisher for a 5-2 advantage.
“Tonight our pitching was not good,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t throw strikes, we put too many base runners in scoring position and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. And then we’re in a battle.”
The Eagles continued to pile it on in the fourth as leadoff hitter Felix Marbury drilled the second pitch he saw from Knights reliever Jacob Spivey over the left-center field fence and Greene scored on a RBI sacrifice by Fisher.
Heights looked like it might make a comeback with a two-out, two-run home run by pinch-hitter Tylor Bigley in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to 7-4. But that’d be all the Knights could manage as Ellison answered with three more runs in the top of the seventh to put it away.