CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Soddy-Daisy pulled one out the hard way and avoided an upset, but Walker Valley didn’t let Ooltewah escape in the District 5-AAA baseball tournament at Walker Valley.
Top-seeded Soddy-Daisy gave up five more hits than it got but played fairly good defense and capitalized on a couple of Rhea County miscues for a 3-0 win. The Mustangs used two key hits to break open a pitchers’ duel and win 3-1 over Ooltewah, the No. 2 seed.
The same teams will go at it again Monday in their best-of-three series. Walker Valley and Ooltewah will play at 5 and the Trojans and Rhea County will play at 8.
If Saturday’s winners win again Monday, the championship game will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday. If either or both of the series are stretched to a third game, the championship would be at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Michael Houchin had not pitched a district game this year, and Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin was beaming after his gamble paid off.
“We had gained a lot of confidence in him over the last month,” Shamblin said of his left-hander. “We knew Michael would put the ball over the plate, and we knew our defense had been playing well.”
In securing their 12th win in their last 15 games, the peaking Mustangs got five innings of no-hit ball from Houchin — 71 pitches, 52 strikes and just 19 balls.
The Owls finally scored a run in the sixth, when Houchin gave up a single to Drew Toth and a double to Philip DePrimo before giving way to Brandon Zajac. Trying to nail down his third save, Zajac got a strikeout before T.J. Binder’s run-scoring single to right. However, Zajac slammed the door with another strikeout before inducing a groundout to third.
“We didn’t really have a good approach at the plate all day,” Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox said. “I’m sitting here thinking we could have scored five or six runs, and we’re taking a called third strike to end two different innings.”
Houchin ended three innings with strikeouts, including the first when DePrimo reached on a error and was erased on a fielder’s choice before Binder was issued an intentional two-out walk.
While Houchin was having a field day on the mound for Walker Valley, the Owls’ Kevin Dupree was pretty much matching him pitch for pitching, allowing just one hit — a first-inning infield single by Chris Caffrey — through the first five innings. Dupree struggled in the sixth, however. After getting the first two outs, he walked the next two batters and both came around to score on a single to left from Caffrey. Zajac then singled in a run.
“We walked two guys leading to their best hitters, and you have to give Caffrey a lot of credit for punching that ball through,” Hitchcox said.
Soddy-Daisy was held to three hits by Rhea’s Brent Smith, but the Trojans benefited greatly from a throwing error in the third inning. Daniel Crawley hit a bloop single up the middle and Talon Harris followed with a bunt, and Crawley came around to score when an errant throw wound up in right field. Taylor Dalton hit a grounder to short and the Rhea shortstop elected to try for the out at home, but Harris beat the throw.
Harris added his 17th home run of the season in the fifth to pretty much put the game out of reach and give pitcher Hadyn Bailey his seventh win without a loss.
“Bailey scattered a handful of hits and worked himself out of a couple of jams,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said.
He turned to Ryan Johnson in the seventh, and Johnson responded with his sixth save over a team Hensley said is playing the best it has played all season.
“I told our guys multiple times in the six hours prior to the game that Rhea County was much improved,” Hensley said. “Too, those guys were coming off wins in games on back-to-back nights when their backs were to the wall. We haven’t been there.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...