Apr. 11—They just know how to win.
That may be the best way to describe this Tiger baseball team and their magical season that continued Saturday with yet another one of those moments these kids and coaches keep producing — and keep embracing.
Aiden Morehouse lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to bring home Miguel Luevano in the bottom of the eighth, lifting the Tigers to a 2-1 win over Cleburne Saturday afternoon in a game that began on Friday night and stayed alive when Hunter Autrey tied things up with a homer in the sixth.
Morehouse’s bases-loaded fly gave the Tigers their second walk-off victory of the season and kept the Tigers in first-place in the 14-5A race that’s packed with teams that could all win the title.
Every game in this league feels like a playoff game, and no one feels it like the Tigers, who moved back into first-place on Tuesday with a 9-1 win over Waco University to start the second half of the district race.
Four teams finished the first half tied for first-place with 4-2 records, but the Tigers have put a bit of daylight between themselves and the pack with two big wins this week — none bigger than knocking off a Cleburne team that started the season ranked No. 1 in the state.
The Tigers handed Cleburne its first loss, knocking the Yellow Jackets off the top-team-in-Texas pedestal in Cleburne in a close, tense 4-2 game on March 9 that was won with a two-run single from Bradley Gruver, who broke up a 2-2 tie to complete the comeback.
That game helped light a fire under the rematch that started Friday night at Price Field in front of a large crowd and ended in a wild celebration Saturday afternoon. Cleburne took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second minutes before lightning showed up and put everything on hold.
The two teams started again at noon on Saturday, but Tiger coach Heath Autrey decided his starter Solomon James, who had a wicked curveball Friday night, had thrown too much Friday (60 warmup pitches and 28 in the game), and went with sophomore Zane Petty, who picked up the game with a runner at first and one out in the second.
Petty, who started the season on fire and then slowed down a bit, stormed back with his second solid outing in a row, shutting out Cleburne through the sixth inning.
Petty gave up just three hits, included two that were aided by the wind. He struck out five over 4 2/3 innings, and finished off the sixth leaving runners at first and third with back-to-back Ks to put an exclamation mark on his day.
Then Hunter Autrey put an exclamation point on Petty’s (!), leading off the bottom of the sixth with an oooo-and-ahhh solo shot — a blast that knotted the score and lifted the crowd to its feet.
Autrey had struck out twice and was down 0-2 in the count when he unloaded. He’s as clutch as any high school hitter in Texas. Just ask Midlothian’s Panthers, who were heartbroken when Autrey hit a towering shot to right in the eighth inning to give the Tigers their most dramatic win of the year — a 2-1 walk-off on March 16.
(By the way, Morehouse delivered a clutch double in the bottom of the seventh in that game that sent James to third. James scored minutes later on a balk to knot the score in that game 1-1, and the Autrey won it in the eighth).
On Saturday Autrey provided the homer that tied things at 1-1 in the sixth and Morehouse drove in the winning run in the eighth when the Tigers scored without a hit. Luevano walked to lead off the inning and Cleburne kept the ball away from Autrey, who walked on five pitches.
James put down a sac bunt to move the runners up and Cleburne intentionally walked Kinkade to load the bases for Morehouse, whose fly ball was just deep enough to score the speedy Luevano, who slid across the plate head-first and was still on flat on the diamond when the Tigers stormed the field in celebration.
But there’s little time to celebrate. The Tigers face Midlothian on the road Tuesday (did we mentioned once again that this is considered the toughest 5A baseball district in Texas?). After all, who do you think the Tigers had to beat in the Region II title series to get to state in 2019? Of course, every Tiger fan knows it was Midlothian.
The comeback victory on Saturday is what this district is all about as six of the seven teams are loaded and have the ability to beat anyone.
The Tigers’ comeback Saturday spoiled a brilliant performance by Cleburne’s Kam Walton, a 6-3 power pitcher whose fastball has been clocked at 94 mph. Walton shut the Tigers out for five innings, before Autrey opened the sixth by ripping his 0-2 fastball over the wall. Walton left after the sixth with six strikeouts and 101 pitches, starting the game Friday and leaving the mound Saturday.
Walton also scored Cleburne’s only run in the second inning when he reached first on a fielder’s choice, stole second and came home on Regan Hanna’s single up the middle.
But coach Autrey knew what he was doing when he brought in Kinkade to start the bottom of the seventh. Kinkade (7-0) retired six in a row with a couple of strikeouts and got the win in relief.
The save? Well, that belongs to Brydan Hernandez, who made the play of the day (actually, two days) when he made a running, hold-your-breath catch at the right field wall, stealing an extra base hit from Aubrey Whitehead to end the inning.
Speaking of holding your breath, the Tigers (19-5), who are now 6-2 in the district race, have four district games left — and two of those are against teams that beat them in the first half of the district season.