Tuesday’s high school baseball game between rivals Soddy-Daisy and Ooltewah meant little more than serving as a prelude to next week’s District 5-AAA tournament.
And when Ooltewah, propelled by Brody Binder’s strong offensive outburst and five innings of shut-down relief by Jared Ryan, walked away with an 11-3 victory, the Owls left A.
C. Bud Ball Field knowing all the win really did was earn them home-team status in the first-round tournament matchup with Soddy-Daisy.
“The intensity for this game was nothing like it’s going to be (May 3) when it’s us (No. 2 seed) against them (No. 3 seed) in the tournament,” Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox said.
Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley was somewhat surprised by his team’s approach to the game, although its significance had been greatly diminished by the odd tournament format that district coaches voted to adopt before the season began.
“I really wasn’t concerned about my guys’ attitude, but, obviously I should have been,” Hensley said. “I thought we had a little more character and pride in ourselves than to come out here and play like we played in this game. The players knew the situation and I should have addressed that. We were still playing to win. (Ooltewah) is a district rival and we came out here to compete, but did not do that at all.”
Still, the fact that Hensley’s Trojans and the Owls will turn right around and face each other in just over a week, left him scratching his head.
“It’s definitely weird,” Hensley said. “We voted on it so I can’t complain too much. I don’t know if they laced our food at the meeting in Cleveland before we voted on it, or what was going on.
“In the past, the two seed has played three, but it was in a best-of-three series and the one seed sat around and waited on four and seven to finish a little single-elimination thing.”
Walker Valley, 9-2 going into Tuesday play, is the district’s No. 1 seed while Bradley Central, Cleveland, Rhea County and McMinn County will determine the four-through-seven spots in the tournament, which will be played at Bradley Central High School in Cleveland.
Ryan, who worked five scoreless innings and gave up one hit while striking out five and walking three, said the Owls had something to prove on Tuesday.
“Since we’ll play them again next week, we wanted to come out and make a statement and let it be known that we can beat these guys if we play as a team,” he said. “So, I think we accomplished that.”
The Owls probably wondered what hit them in the first inning.
Soddy-Daisy (16-14, 8-4) took full advantage of Ooltewah starter Chase Morrissey’s rough start with three first-inning runs.
Morrissey hit two batters, walked one and the Trojans scored runs on Kevin Dupree’s throwing error, Caden Ricketts’ single and a Nick Xoinis’ fielder’s choice. Dillon Clift struck out with runners at first and third to end the Trojans’ first.
“Three runs in the first inning were good, but I thought we could have taken advantage of that a little more,” Hensley said. “They got three in the bottom of the inning and we had the bases loaded again the second and squandered an opportunity. They had some timely hits in the next couple of innings and put us away. They’re a good club. You can’t come out here and just go through the motions.”
Ooltewah responded to Soddy-Daisy’s three-run first with a three-run outburst of its own off Trojans starter Ryan Skinner.
After a groundout, the Owls (18-10, 9-3), bouncing back from Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Trojans, loaded the bases on Brody Binder’s single and walks to Cody Rhinehart and T.J. Binder.
Dupree’s groundout scored the first run and Morrissey followed with a two-run double to right field.
The Trojans loaded the bases in the second on an error and two hit batsmen, but Dalton Rogers flied out as Morrissey escaped that potential mess.
T.J. Binder’s two-run double to left-center field highlighted the Owls’ three-run second inning, in which three Owls drew walks. Hayden Bradley got it all started with a single and scored on Cody Rhinehart’s groundout.
Skinner answered the bell in the third, but quickly got in neck-deep trouble with back-to-back, one-out singles by Bradley and Kyle Kapherr and a walk to Logan Fugate.
Brody Binder’s long double to right-center field cleared the bases and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Rhinehart.
“Brody saw the ball well and made them throw strikes,” Hitchcox said. “It was good to see him hit the ball the other way because that’s probably what he does best. He’s got a lot of power to the opposite field. When we get his approach that way, he’s a dangerous hitter.”
Skinner gave up 10 runs – nine earned – on seven hits, including three doubles. He walked six and struck out one.
The Ooltewah assault slowed after Hensley brought left-handed reliever Tyler Westmoreland in to face the Owls in the fourth. Westmoreland gave up three hits and only one run, that coming on a wild pitch that scored Fugate, who opened the inning with a single in his three innings of work.
Morrissey never really gained command of his pitches and in two innings allowed three runs on one hit, but hit four batters and walked two.
Ryan proved more formidable and Soddy-Daisy never adjusted well to his mixture of fastballs and changeups.
“I felt good,” said Ryan, who is 1-0 with one save this season. “I was around the corners all day with my fastball, mixed it up with my changeup and had (hitters) on their front foot a lot.”
That’s what Hitchcox has seen from Ryan throughout the season.
“He’s really been consistent,” Hitchcox said. “He came in and threw strikes when it was 6-3 and then we got the four-spot and everybody can relax a lot more.
“Our pitching and defense have been good all year and those two things will keep us in these upcoming games. Of those 10 losses we have, eight were by one run. Every district loss was by one run, so we’re in all the close games. We have to execute offensively so we come out on top in those tight games.”
With clutch hitting like they displayed Tuesday, those close games might just be a thing of the past for the Owls.
Soddy-Daisy 300 000 0 – 3 2 2
Ooltewah 334 010 x – 11 10 2
Skinner, Westmoreland (4) and Clift; Morrissey, Ryan (3) and T.J. Binder
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)