Normalcy returned to District 5-AAA baseball Wednesday.
Ooltewah saw to that, sinking the ship of surprises that Soddy-Daisy had sailed into the winners-bracket final.
The Owls, top-seeded entering the tournament, bested the stubborn Trojans 3-1 and used the win to secure a host role in Monday's Region 3-AAA semifinals.
Soddy-Daisy, which entered the tournament with an 8-21 record, opened the tournament with a 10-5 victory over second-seeded Walker Valley and followed up with a same score victory in eight innings over Bradley Central.
"We don't give a coach of the year award in the district but he would have been the one to get it," Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox said of Jared Hensley, his Soddy-Daisy peer. "They took some brutal losses early and they could've given up on the season, but he kept that team together."
Hitchcox might also have been a candidate for that same award. His Owls pretty much sailed through the district, finishing with a 12-2 record. They'll enter Monday's game against the Region 4 runner-up with a 22-11 standard.
"Our theme going into and throughout the tournament was surprise attack, but you can only surprise people for so long," Hensley said. "We knew that despite the days off Ooltewah would come prepared.
The rain-enforced off days -- six for Ooltewah and five for Soddy-Daisy -- were apparent. The teams combined for just 10 hits and the two starting pitchers had but five strikeouts between them. The only thing that looked completely fresh about either club was their defenses.
While each played error-free, Soddy-Daisy turned a pair of double plays including a unique 3-5-4 on an attempted sacrifice bunt and Trojans starter Hunter Maynor also picked off a runner to cut short Ooltewah's lone rally. The Owls also had a double play but they had two fair defensive efforts in the outfield. Left-fielder Jared Davenport drifted back and made a grab with his back to the fence that kept a Trojans run from scoring in the sixth and center-fielder Logan Fugate made a diving fifth-inning grab that robbed Dillon Clift of a hit.
"It's indicative of how we have played all year," Hitchcox said of the game and the defensive effort. "We've pitched well and we have played good defense. You just hope to come up with a big hit."
They did that in the fifth, breaking a scoreless tie by touching Trojans starter Hunter Maynor for four of the six hits he would surrender.
Mitch Duncan, the freshman whose midseason promotion to starting shortstop has solidified the Owls' infield, led off with a single to left. Trying to sacrifice bunt him over, Jared Davenport wound up with an infield single when the Trojans were unable to make any play at second or first. Fugate followed with an RBI single to right, Hayden Bailey added a run-scoring fly to center and Brody Binder plate the third run with a single to left.
Jackson McClain gave up one run over 5.2 innings to notch his sixth win without a loss and Zach Thompson pitched the final 1.1 innings to pick up his first save.
"In the postseason it takes timely hits and they got those," Hensley said, "but the odds weren't very good for us to be where we are and the guys have shown a lot of character and heart. I'm excited to be playing [today] for a region berth."
The tournament was cut short because of the heavy rain over the weekend and the final game -- the losers-bracket final -- will be played this afternoon when Soddy-Daisy meets the winner of last night's Bradley Central-Cleveland game.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.
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 ...