Soddy-Daisy baseball coach Jared Hensley had seen this film before.
Ooltewah right-hander Zach Thompson stymied Hensley’s Trojans on two hits over six innings Tuesday night and the Owls scored eight runs in the sixth inning to turn a pitching duel into a 9-0 rout in the District 5-AAA opener for both teams at Soddy-Daisy.
On a cold, windy night at Soddy-Daisy’s hilltop Tom Higgins Field, Thompson gave up two singles, both to Trojans leadoff hitter Devan DeMatteo, in the fourth and sixth innings and struck out seven in what also was season-opening game for both teams.
“It was déjà vu all over again,” Hensley said. “We saw him in the first game of the District tournament last year and he was really tough on us then. When I shook his hand tonight I told him he did a great job and if I never saw him again it would be the best day of my life.”
The two teams, considered strong contenders for the district championship this season, play again Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Ooltewah. That game was postponed on Monday due to rain.
Last May, Thompson three-hit the Trojans and struck out 12 in Ooltewah’s 5-1 victory in the first round of the district tournament at Bradley Central High School.
On Tuesday, Thompson was equally impressive.
The hard-throwing senior, who has backed off a commitment to Tennessee Tech, retired the first nine batters before DeMatteo, a junior center fielder, reached on a bunt single. DeMatteo was sacrificed to second, but Thompson got Caden Ricketts and Dillon Clift on infield groundouts to end the fourth inning.
Thompson issued a one-out walk to Andy Wright in the fifth, but struck out Austin Hickey and Gavin Rogers.
“I felt great,” Thompson said. “It was a beautiful night, a little cool, I felt really loose and put it to them. My fastball was working well and I got a couple curveballs past them for outs and groundballs, but overall it was my fastball that worked. Just like last year.”
After Ooltewah took 30 minutes to score eight runs off Wright in the sixth inning, Thompson went back to the mound.
He wasn’t himself, though.
Thompson walked Tre Carter, DeMatteo collected his second hit, a sharp line-drive single to left field and Baylor Stewart drew a bases-loading walk. Thompson got Ricketts on a pop-up, struck out Clift and Christian Amos grounded out to end the Trojans’ threat.
“Wow,” Owls first baseman Kevin Dupree said of Thompson. “What a stellar performance. There’s no other way to describe it other than amazing. He threw really well and executed his plan.”
Thompson used 26 of his 85 pitches to get through the sixth after needing just a combined 20 the previous two innings.
“Zach threw well,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “He threw a lot of strikes, worked quick and didn’t let it get to him that we weren’t cashing in on some early opportunities.”
The Owls, who lost to Warren County, 4-3, in nine innings in the 2012 Region 3-AAA semifinals, broke the game open with an eight-run, six-hit sixth that saw Trojans reliever Wright use 45 pitches to get three outs.
Soddy-Daisy committed two of its five errors in the disastrous sixth.
Drew Williams and Dupree each had two-run doubles in the Owls’ big inning while Logan Fugate, Hayden Bradley and Brody Binder added run-scoring hits as the Owls sent 12 batters to the plate.
“The biggest difference between Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy tonight was after five innings they put a little pressure on us and we caved,” Hensley said. “That’s what good teams do and we couldn’t handle it. They did a good job going back-side (three straight hits to right field by Fugate, Bradley and Binder).
“We weren’t prepared and that’s my fault. We should have made some adjustments. I assure you we will make them and I hope we’ll be ready for (Wednesday) night.”
Thompson wasn’t the only effective pitcher in the game.
Soddy-Daisy starter Hunter Maynor, a sophomore left-hander, checked the Owls on two hits over the first four innings – a leadoff single by Fugate and Mike Ruebusch’s infield grounder in the second.
Dupree, a Middle Tennessee State University signee who walked to start the second inning, stole second and moved to third while Ruebusch beat Wright’s throw to first. When the ball skipped past first baseman Ricketts, Dupree scored the game’s first run.
Maynor escaped jams in the third and fourth innings and got two quick outs in the fifth before Hensley pulled him for Wright, who walked Chase Morrissey but got Williams on a grounder to end the inning.
“Maynor was awesome,” Hensley said. “He’s just a sophomore and gives up base hits in the first and second innings. The only thing I could ask of him would be to keep the pitch count a little lower so he could go a couple more innings. We wanted to protect his arm because he’s going to be a big part of our team this year.”
The Owls got to Wright in the sixth in a big way, taking all the suspense out of the game.
“If you put yourself in those situations enough times, eventually you’re going to break through,” Hitchcox said. “I’m glad we had that many opportunities. Our situational hitting wasn’t great early in the game, but it’s early and we’ll learn from that.
“We eventually cashed in.”
Thompson said he wanted to come out for the seventh, but gave way to Hitchcox’s decision to use Fugate in the final inning.
“Being up nine runs you don’t need to go out there and prove anything,” Thompson said.
Since it was the season opener and the weather wasn’t all that pleasant – temperatures dipped into the low 40s in the late innings – Hitchcox stuck with his plan to monitor pitches closely.
“Zach reached his pitch count and that was it,” Hitchcox said. “If the game is still 1-0 there it’s a tougher decision. The big inning made it a lot easier.”
Fugate gave up a leadoff single to Wright in the seventh, but struck out Austin Hickey and Levi Thornton and got Carter on a game-ending groundout.
“It was a good opener,” Hitchcox said. “We’ll take it.”
Ooltewah 010 008 0 – 9 8 0
Soddy-Daisy 000 000 0 – 0 3 5
Thompson, Fugate (7) and Binder; Maynor, Wright (5), Rivera (7) and Clift.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)