Ooltewah and visiting Stewarts Creek gave the scoreboard all it could handle in a Class AAA baseball state sectional Friday night. The two teams filled all 10 frames on the board with the Red Hawks putting up the final number to take a 6-4 win.
The loss ended the host Owls' season.
"I think that's one of the two or three best games I've ever coached in, and I've been doing this for over 30 years," Stewarts Creek coach Mike Bartlett said. "Hats off to Ooltewah for making it a great game."
The Owls (29-7) fired out of the gate with three first-inning runs. Jake Sullivan and Andrew Manning singled in front of pitcher Ethan Walls, who helped himself with a double to score a pair. Jackson Malcolm plated Walls with another single.
The early deficit stirred the Red Hawks (30-8), who had gone quietly in the first. Austin Steele doubled and Maddox VonDohlen walked. Both advanced on a wild pitch, and Corey Perkins followed with an RBI groundout. Brandon Rooney trimmed the deficit back to one with a bloop single.
"We knew they were a lot like us — built around pitching and defense — and we came out and punched them in the mouth in the first," Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. "They were able to get two back, and that was huge for the rhythm of the game. From there it was a dogfight."
Steele took his place on the mound and settled in after a rocky start to pitch four straight scoreless innings. He put his trust in an explosive fastball to limit Ooltewah, ultimately using it to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning with a strikeout after his team took a 4-3 lead in the top of the frame.
Walls also turned in a gutsy performance, pitching into extra innings to give his team a chance. He scattered eight hits over eight innings and struck out nine while walking just one.
"What helped was my team's ability to keep playing," Walls said. "They stayed behind me and kept battling back. The guys had my back."
With opportunities dwindling, the Owls clawed back in the sixth inning. Malcolm led off with a double and was bunted over. Sam Zettel came off the bench and delivered with a sacrifice fly to center.
"At the beginning of the season, we came up with two words to describe this team, and one of them was resilience," Walls said. "We call the sixth inning 'our inning,' because all year long we've been able to make things happen."
The game shifted into extras, and Ooltewah nearly ended it twice in the ninth. Leadoff batter Andy Reed smoked one to right-center field and brought the home crowd to its feet in anticipation, but it ran out of gas and became a long out just in front of the wall.
With two on and two out, Daniel Willie's line drive to right caught too much air and the ball again found Dylan Burney's glove.
Stewarts Creek then pushed two across in the 10th, as Tre Bailliez tripled and scored on a dropped third strike and throw to first. Daniel Freeman also tripled, and pinch runner Jake Alexander came home on a groundout.
"I wasn't ready for it to end," Walls said. "This is by far the best season we've had since I've been here, and it was big for me to get to come out and pitch in a sectional."
Contact Idris Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org