CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Ooltewah continued its roll through the District 5-AAA baseball tournament Saturday night and the Binder brothers had a big hand in hammering Walker Valley pitching ace Bobby Towne in a 7-5 victory that earned the Owls a spot in the championship game and a Region 3 tourney berth.
“Getting to the regional was one of our goals because it’s something we came up short on the last two years,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “These guys are playing with a chip on their shoulders.
In earlier games, Soddy-Daisy stayed alive with a nail-biting 3-2 win over McMinn County on Dalton Rogers’ game-winning RBI single in the seventh inning and Bradley Central also lived to play another day with a 5-0 win over rival Cleveland behind the three-hit pitching of Jordan Whitmire.
Bradley will play Soddy-Daisy on Monday at 7 p.m. in an elimination game, with the winner advancing to the loser’s bracket finals against Walker Valley (19-8) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. That winner will take on Ooltewah (23-11) at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at 5 p.m. The Owls would have to lose twice not to win the district title.
And that’s a tall order for the team that does survive the loser’s bracket elimination battle.
“Our confidence is off the charts,” said Ooltewah left-hander Jackson McClain, who survived a rocky four-run sixth inning to outduel Towne and win his sixth decision without a loss this season.
Towne went into Saturday’s game at the Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex on Bradley Central’s campus with a 7-0 record and an amazing 0.00 ERA, having given up just one run – unearned – all season in leading the Mustangs to the regular-season district title and a No. 1 seed for the tournament.
When it was over, second-seeded Ooltewah had roughed up Towne, a smoothing-throwing right-hander, with 11 hits and seven runs – six earned. Towne struck out two and walked five and lost the expected pitching duel with Ooltewah’s Jackson McClain, who pitched a complete game five-hitter with eight strikeouts and one walk.
The Binder Brothers did a lot of the damage, combining for four hits, four runs and three RBIs – all those by T.J., a senior catcher who has signed with Troy University – in eight at-bats.
T.J. Binder drove in three runs with a pair of doubles, including a two-run shot to left-center field – Brody and Cody Rhinehart scored – in a four-run sixth that gave the Owls a 7-1 lead and seemingly put the game on ice. He also accounted for the Owls’ first run in the third, his two-bagger pushing home his brother, who started the inning with a single.
The Binders’ familiarity with Towne should not surprise anyone, least of all Towne.
“Brody and I played with Bobby on a summer-ball team (Chattanooga Cyclones),” T.J. said. “He’s got good control of all his pitches (fastball, curve and changeup) and you have to be aggressive when you get his fastball. That’s what we did tonight. We were aggressive, saw some good pitches and hit them good.”
Brody Binder, a sophomore designated hitter, reached base three times and scored twice and believes part of the Owls’ late-season success stems from production from the two-hole (him) and four-hole (T.J.).
“I’m getting on and he’s getting me in to score,” the younger Binder said.
Like his brother, Brody Binder said he caught Towne a few times in summer games and knows what to expect from the Mustangs’ ace. Getting to Towne early was a pivotal factor in the Ooltewah victory.
“I was thinking after the first inning he was thinking about giving up that run,” Brody said. “After that I think everything just snowballed.”
However, the Owls failed to take full advantage of scoring opportunities in the first three innings, stranding six base runners.
“It could have been real bad,” Brody said.
It was bad enough.
Towne escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second by striking out Drew Toth. The Owls stranded two more in the third on a great play by first baseman Caleb Longley, who dug out a throw in the dirt from third baseman Chris Caffrey for the third out.
“They really did a good job preparing to hit off Bobby,” Mustangs coach Joe Shamblin said. “He was 7-0, had three saves and hadn’t given up an earned run all year. We felt good with him on the mound. You have to credit Ooltewah for being ready for him.”
Nursing a 1-0 lead, Rhinehart started the Owls’ fifth with an infield hit and T.J. Binder walked. Rhinehart eventually scored on Chase Morrissey’s sacrifice fly and Binder later scored from third on Caffrey’s fielding error at second.
The Owls’ successful plan to attack Towne broke the game wide open in the sixth.
“Our approach was really the same as always – hit strikes and take balls,” Hitchcox said. “We hit some tough pitches, some bunts fell in, we had base runners and some quirky things happened. We left a lot of guys on (10), but we cashed in a few times, too.”
Brody Binder and Rhinehart each reached on one-out singles. On a 0-1 pitch, T.J. Binder ripped a gapper into left-center for a two-run double and pushed the Owls’ lead to 5-0.
T.J. Binder scored on Morrissey’s ground single to right and Kevin Dupree, who drew two intentional walks from Towne, scored on Drew Williams’ sacrifice fly to right and gave the Owls a six-run cushion.
The lead shrank in a hurry, though.
With one out in the Mustangs’ sixth, Towne, who had two of Walker Valley’s five hits, singled to center and Matthew Simmons reach on shortstop Rhinehart’s error.
Longley’s high pop to short center fell between Rhinehart and center-fielder Toth, but Toth retrieved the ball and fired to third for a force out. Towne scored on the play.
Logan Longwith’s single loaded the bases again.
McClain, who looked like he was on a Carribbean cruise for five innings – he had thrown just 46 pitches, 36 for strikes, hit Jake Ward, who had struck out twice before, and Caffrey scored Walker Valley’s third run of the inning.
Before Bradley Smith came to the plate, Hitchcox went to the mound as Owls reliever Jared Ryan started warming up in the bullpen down the left-field foul line.
“At that point I wasn’t close to taking him out,” Hitchcox said. “I wanted him to take a couple of deep breaths and calm down because he’s a high-energy guy, and he’s a rhythm guy. Once a popup drops and a ball sneaks through the hole, I didn’t want him to get flustered. I told him we still have the lead, you’re still in control and you’re our guy.”
But two pitches later, Smith laced a two-run double into the right-field corner to close the Mustangs’ deficit to two runs.
The gutty McClain struck out Josh Poole to end the inning.
As soon as the big left-hander got to the dugout he went straight for Hitchcox.
“I didn’t know if I would pitch the seventh,” said McClain, who had a 1.6 ERA going into Saturday’s game. “I went immediately to coach Hitchcox so I would know how to prepare myself if I did go back out there.
“He told me I’m going back in and any sign of trouble they would bring in Jared.”
Hitchcox’s reasoning for sticking with McClain?
“I felt Jackson matched up with some of their guys,” he said. “Jackson pitched too well to lose the game. I wouldn’t have left him in a situation where he could have lost it.”
As it turned out, McClain didn’t need Ryan’s relief.
He struck out Jared Broome, Towne hit a soft liner to Dupree at first and Matthew Simmons was retired on a brilliant field-and-throw play by third baseman Williams to end the game.
“I’m running on empty,” said McClain, whose voice sounded as tired as he looked.
“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in that one inning. But we came back and got those final outs by making some good plays.
“It feels great to get to region and we’re one of those teams that when we get fired up there’s no stopping us. And we’re fired up. We’re late bloomers and we’re hitting our stride. It’s a combination of heart and hard work.”
McClain finished off a stretch of superb pitching for the Owls in their three tournament games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
In beating No. 3 seed Soddy-Daisy, No. 4 Bradley Central and No. 1 Walker Valley, Ooltewah’s Zach Thompson, Dupree and McClain worked 21 combined innings, each turning in seven-inning, complete-game performances.
They allowed a total of 13 hits.
They yielded six runs – five earned – for a 1.67 ERA.
They struck out 25 and threw a total of 287 pitches, 219 of which were strikes.
On Saturday, McClain threw 85 pitches, 62 for strikes, and kept the impressive streak going.
Meanwhile, Ooltewah’s offense produced 15 runs on 28 hits, including eight for extra bases – six doubles and two triples – and T.J. Binder banged three doubles and a triple over the same three-game stretch.
So far, that’s been an unbeatable combination for the Owls.
Towne needed 99 pitches to get through his 5.2 innings of work.
In the day’s opening game, the Trojans (18-16) were almost at the end of their rope with lowly McMinn County (7-24) leading 2-1 going into the last of the seventh inning.
But Austin Smith doubled and Christian Amos’ single moved him to third. Austin Hickey delivered a run-scoring single and Andy Wright walked to load the bases. Rogers delivered his clutch game-winner, the Trojans’ 10th hit off two Cherokees pitchers.
“Everybody that came to the plate in the seventh had quality at-bats for us,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said. “I’m proud of these guys. They’ve faced a lot of adversity this year on and off the field. It would have been easy for them to lay down and quit, but they didn’t. For our seniors, this was their 75th win in three years. That’s a big accomplishment for those guys.”
Although he didn’t get the win, Jake Leffew turned in a solid pitching effort over 6.2 innings, striking out10 while allowing just four hits.
“Jake did an outstanding job,” Hensley said.
Ooltewah 001 024 0 – 7 13 1
Walker Valley 001 004 0 – 5 5 2
McClain and T.J. Binder; Towne, Lyles (6), Simmons (7) and Poole.
McMinn County 000 001 1 – 2 5 0
Soddy-Daisy 000 010 2 – 3 10 1
Powers, Lingerfelt (7) and Odum; Leffew, Bailey (7) and Clift.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)