Remember those small-ball Tigers, those scrappy Tigers who scratched and clawed and pulled runs out of thin air, bunting and running and pushing the the other guys with an unrelenting brand of baseball built on speed and discipline and anchored with great defense, pitching that lived on throwing strikes and an challenging every team with an aggressive style of play.
Those Tigers are back with a district title in their pocket.
Call it Autrey-Ball, because it's more than small-ball or traditional bunts and hit-and-runs -- it's a philosophy and style of play that was born in the mind of Tigers' coach Heath Autrey, who over the years has found himself facing teams that were bigger, stronger and -- in some cases -- just more talented than his Tigers.
This is Texas, one of the top three states where the big leagues come to shop. Look at the rosters in the majors and you will find a long list of players from California, Florida and Texas.
You won't find any from Corsicana. So how do the Tigers win 20 games every year. How did the 2021 Tigers nail down the program's ninth consecutive berth in the playoffs? That's how long Autrey has been at CHS -- nine years, nine trips to the playoffs. Good teams, bad teams, strong pitching, shaky pitching, young teams, veteran teams ...
"We are all about the details, the little things, but it's the details that make the difference," Autrey said.
The last two regular seasons (2019 and 2021) in which the Tigers played a district schedule, the they were caught in a mix-master district that was easily the best or most competitive 5A conference in Texas.
Both years the Tigers were picked to finish fourth. Think about that today as Autrey's kids stand as the top team in a district where all four of the playoff teams (Tigers, Joshua, Midlothian and Ennis) have a chance to reach the state tournament.
None are favored to get to state, but all four have a legitimate chance. In 2019 three of the final four teams in the Region III race were from 14-5A, and the Tigers had to beat Midlothian to get to state.
That's not competitive -- that's insanely competitive.
How did Autrey's kids win the district title? They were packed in a tight race where six teams were alive with a chance to win a district title a week ago. The Tigers were still alive despite playing short-handed down the stretch. The Tigers were missing two of their most talented starters on the team for the last six games, and three starters, including the team's hottest hitter of late, in two of those games.
Never mind, they took the field at Waxahachie Saturday morning in a one-game showdown against Joshua to decide the district title and the No. 1 seed from 14-5A in this week's playoffs.
Guess what? Those old-school Tigers, the scrappy, bunt-crazy, Autrey-Ball Tigers showed up in Waxahachie just in time to take the title.
The Tigers won 9-4, after taking over the game in the bottom of the first, bunting and flying around the bases to erase a 2-0 deficit and take a four-run lead.
Hunter Autrey, the team's most productive hitter who has led the Tigers in home runs and RBIs the last three years, was put in the unfamiliar leadoff spot by his father, who knew exactly whet he was doing.
Hunter ripped an opposite field single to ignite the four-run answer. Austin Pryor and Aiden Morehouse followed with bunt singles to drive Joshua crazy. Morehouse, who has been on fire of late, is now hitting .365.
Morehouse was just getting started. He hit a two-out triple to the wall in the fourth, driving in Bradley Gruver, who is arguably the best high school clutch-hitter in the No. 9 spot in anybody's order. Gruver used to surprise Tiger fans with his clutch hits. Now everybody expects them.
Morehouse scored when Solomon James came through with a clutch two-out single to make it a 7-2 game. The Tigers had extended the lead to 5-2 in the third when Connor Means' delivered a sac fly to bring home James.
The Tigers added a run in the fifth when Means led off with an infield hit and scored later on a passed ball to give the Tigers a 8-4 lead. Morehouse led off the sixth with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Payton Aycock's grounder to second to make it 9-4.
That was more than enough for the Tigers, who got strong outings from Kolby Kinkade and Hunter Autrey. Kinkade started and went 4 1/3 innings. He struck out the first two hitters in the game before the Owls, who have a talented lineup, scored four runs on four hits to take a 4-0 lead. But Kinkade tossed up three zeros until Joshua scored two runs in the fifth
Hunter Autrey came in with one out and walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, but he snapped right back and ended the inning with a strikeout and a comebacker to the mound to leave the bases loaded in one of most dramatic moments of the game. Autrey gave up only one hit over the final 2 2/3 innings while striking out three, leaving no doubt that he will be the Tigers' closer in the playoffs.
Coach Autrey said earlier this week that reaching the playoffs this year was the most rewarding of the nine teams that have made it -- including the 2019 team that marched to the state tournament.
Winning the district title was more than icing on the cake. It literally stamps this team in Tiger Lore, regardless of what happens next. These kids have their own place in Corsicana baseball after dealing with a mountain of adversity and winning the 14-5A title. They've won 22 games, and got here without ever making any excuses, ignoring the fact they were short-handed and rejoicing every time one of the new faces showed up and came through down the stretch.
The Tigers not only enter the playoffs with momentum, they open the bi-district round Friday against Forney with the closest dugout in the state. Every kid on this team knows they got here together, and embrace that feeling and that fact. No pep talk needed. These Tigers know who they are and how they got here.
Nobody knows how far they will go, but they know how far they have come.
Tigers vs. Forney
7 p.m. Friday at Tillery Field (2500 Memorial Blvd. Mesquite)
Noon Saturday at Price Field
7 p.m. Monday at Tillery Field (2500 Memorial Blvd.)