Walker Valley players Caleb Longley, No. 24, runs back to the dugout while his teammates congratulate him for scoring a run. Walker Valley played against Soddy-Daisy during the District 5-AAA baseball tournament at Walker Valley Highschool in Charleston, Tenn., on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Michael Houch might never touch 90 mph with his fastball, but the Walker Valley pitcher may never need it.
Houch gave up two first-inning runs to Soddy-Daisy but settled in to shut out the hard-hitting Trojans over the next six innings as the Mustangs rallied for a 6-2 victory and the District 5-AAA baseball tournament championship.
“I saw him throw on Saturday and could only hope we wouldn’t see him tonight,” Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley said.
Following a 27-pitch first inning, the Walker Valley lefty needed just 63 more pitches. He threw just seven in the fourth and eight in the third and fifth innings.
“That first inning I got a little concerned, but the coaches told me I wasn’t getting enough push off my back leg,” said Houch, better known among teammates as Cornbread. “This is the best I have thrown this year, and I was surprised to do it considering the competition.”
The Trojans were the regular-season champions and won by the 10-run rule in the teams’ last meeting. But at one point Houch had set down 15 in a row although he had just two strikeouts, those not coming until the seventh inning.
Mustangs coach Joe Shamblin had reservations about sending Houch to the mound since he had pitched the Saturday victory over Ooltewah.
“I only threw 67 pitches Saturday. I was a little sore on Sunday, but I felt fine yesterday,” Houch said.
“We communicate and we talked to him last night. He said he felt great and then he told me he wanted the ball,” Shamblin said. “We have a lot of confidence in him, and when a kid you have confidence in says he wants the ball, you give it to him.”
Houch gave up three hits in the first inning but didn’t surrender another until there were two outs in the sixth.
“We came with a good approach at the plate in the first inning, but for whatever reason we got away from that,” Hensley said. “But other than that inning, I didn’t think we did a good job at the plate at any point in the tournament.”
The Trojans struck out 14 times in a Monday victory over Rhea County.
Talon Harris opened the game with a single to right field and stole second. He scored on Damian DeMatteo’s single to center, and Dalton Rogers followed with a two-out single to give the Trojans a 2-0 lead.
Walker Valley, which has won 13 of its last 16 games, got Houch the lead and some breathing room in the third. Hitting in the nine hole, Logan Longwith singled to left and went to third on Bobby Towne’s double. Chris Caffrey walked, Brandon Zajac hit a sacrifice fly to right, Cody-Suttles walked and Caleb Longley followed with a two-run double to left-center before scoring on Colton Ward’s single to center.
The Mustangs added another run in the fourth on a Zajac single to right.
Both teams advance to region play. Walker Valley will be at home Monday and Soddy-Daisy goes on the road. They will face Cookeville and Coffee County, who are playing today for the District 6 championship.
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 ...