Patience paid off for the Ooltewah Owls Thursday night in the opening round of the Wildcat Classic.
Owls starter Drew Williams was locked up in a terrific pitchers' duel with East Hamilton's Andrew Thompson on Ooltewah's A.C. "Bud" Ball Field, with neither allowing a hit for three innings. But midway through the fifth, the Owls and Williams were down two runs with time seemingly running out.
But Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox stayed with his starter and the clutch hits soon came as the Owls rallied for a 6-2 victory in pool play, leaving them 3-0 going into a battle with nationally ranked Tullahoma in a 6:45 meeting that will follow a Tullahoma-East Hamilton game at 4, also at Ooltewah.
Down 2-0 going into the home half of the fifth, Hitchcox was happy not to have needed to relieve Williams, who wound up with a complete game three-hitter, retiring the last eight hitters he faced. But Williams was on the ragged edge in the fifth, having hit a batter with the bases loaded to make the score 2-0. After a meeting with his infield, Hitchcox got a home-to-first double play started by hit to the pitcher, who then retired dangerous leadoff hitter Hunter Parker on a harmless fly ball.
"Drew is always going to give you a chance to win whenever he pitches," said Hitchcox. "He has thrown well against a lot of good teams. Tonight he got the double play when he needed it to give that chance."
Thursday, Williams allowed only the three hits, striking out four and walking no one.
In the home fifth, a leadoff walk to Miek Ruebusch meant instant trouble for Thompson, a crafty lefty who, not by coincidence, wears Tom Glavine's #47. Jared Davenport moved the runner with a bunt, and No. 9 hitter Logan Burnette brought the Owls' first run home with an RBI single.
"Logan is a battler, a very competitive hitter. He's a good one to have in the nine spot," said his coach.
Leadoff man Logan Fugate, who reached base three times Thursday, singled Burnette to second and ended Thompson's night. With two out, Brody drove him in with his second hit to tie the contest. But for the Hurricanes, the wheels came off this one in the sixth.
The inning started innocently enough as Ryan "Roy" Crowden got it to a two-out, men on first and third situation. But he walked Burnette and Fugate to force in a run for a 3-2 lead and force East Hamilton coach Steve Garland's hand into another pitching change. Ethan Hollingshead got an infield pop up on his first pitch to Hayden Brantley, but made the fundamental mistake of calling off his infielders to make the play himself. He didn't, and the ball fell for a two-run error.
One more infield error and Chase Morrisey's RBI single and this one belonged to the Owls. But all six runs in the Ooltewah sixth were unearned.
East Hamilton 000 110 0 -- 2 3 4
Ooltewah 000 026 x -- 6 6 2
WP: Drew Williams (1-0) 7 IP, 3 H, 4 K. LP: Ryan Crowden. Ool: Brody Binder 2-4, 2 RBI; Records: East Hamilton, 2-1; Ooltewah, 3-0
Signal Mountain 10, Hixson 7
At Hixson, the Eagles began Wildcat Classic play by pouncing on the host team. The Eagles scored the game's first nine runs, including a six-run second inning.
Signal Mountain had only five hits in the contest, but two were Madison Byrd home runs, good for five RBIs.
Both Signal Mountain and Hixson play the Gwinnett Christian Barons this afternoon in the Hixson-host segment of the four-day tournament. However, East Ridge has withdrawn from the tournament and the adjusted schedule has East Hamilton playing at both Ooltewah and Central today.
Signal Mountain 260 100 1 -- 10 5 4
Hixson 000 241 0 -- 7 7 3
WP: Braxton Reese. LP: Zach Kessler. Records: Signal Mountain (1-0); Hixson (0-3).
Signal Mtn. vs. GCB at Hixson, 4
GCB at Hixson, 6:45
Bradley Central at Central, 4:30
East Hamilton vs. Bradley Central at Central, 7:15
Tullahoma vs. East Hamilton at Ooltewah, 4
Tullahoma at Ooltewah, 6:45