“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”
– Hall of Famer Warren Spahn
With pin-point control, Ooltewah right-hander Zach Thompson needed just one pitch – a menacing fastball – to keep the McMinn County Cherokees back on their heels.
Thompson, pitching for three innings under the watchful eye of a Lee University coach, threw a complete game three-hitter on Tuesday in a 7-1 victory at Bud C. Ball Field that kept the Owls unbeaten in District 5-AAA play.
The Owls and Cherokees conclude the home-and-home series Wednesday in Athens at 7 p.m.
“Zach controlled his pitches very well,” Owls catcher Brody Binder said. “The fastball is pretty much all he used today. There was no need to use off-speed pitches because he mixed up the speed on his fastball really well.”
Thompson (2-0) gave up two hits, including Corey Wade’s run-scoring double, in the first inning. The next – and last – hit off the hard-throwing senior came in the fifth inning, a two-out single to right by Jake Lingerfelt.
Other than those two innings, the Cherokees (0-7, 0-3) were teetering on helplessness against the masterful control that Thompson displayed.
“I like to be in command, be fluid and just keep on going,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to be inconsistent. I was a little shaky in the first inning and that fly-ball hit was my fault.”
There has been no variation in Thompson’s mound work over two starts this season.
In his 2013 debut, Thompson threw a two-hit shutout at Soddy-Daisy for six innings before giving way to reliever Logan Fugate due to a strict pitch county put in place by Owls coach Brian Hitchcox.
On Tuesday, Thompson handcuffed McMinn County on three hits while striking out seven and walking none.
In 13 innings, Thompson has struck out 14, walked two and yielded one run and five hits. His early-season ERA is 0.54.
“He filled up the (strike) zone today,” said Hitchcox, whose Owls are 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the district. “He got ahead of most hitters, put the ball where he wanted and made them swing at his pitches.
“It’s always good to get a district win and (Zach’s) the biggest reason for that today.”
Thompson committed to Tennessee Tech last season but later backed off that decision. He’s now being recruited by a “handful” of schools with the two most serious pursuers being Lee out of Cleveland and Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., Hitchcox said.
With more efforts like Tuesday’s over the remainder of the season Thompson could find more suitors lining up for his signature.
In dissecting Thompson’s performance against the Cherokees, a clear picture of his dominance emerges.
Thompson needed 77 pitches – the game lasted only 92 minutes – to dispose of McMinn County.
He threw only 11 pitches out of the strike zone, meaning that 66 of his offerings were strikes.
Thompson never threw more than 14 pitches in an inning.
In the second and fourth, Thompson threw a combined 13 pitches – all strikes.
He fired three pitches out of the strike zone twice – in the third and fourth innings.
In closing out the Cherokees, Thompson threw 11 pitches in the seventh and 10 were for strikes.
Despite giving up two hits and the lone run, Thompson’s strike-to-ball ratio was 14-2 in the first inning and 12-2 in the fifth.
He faced 25 batters, four over the minimum.
Get the picture?
“I’ve never thrown like this before,” Thompson said. “I threw one changeup and 76 fastballs. I wanted to challenge their hitters. I didn’t think about their record because I think they’re a good team and went at right them with my fastball.”
After Wade’s first-inning double, Thompson retired 10 straight before Javan Simpson reached on Owls third baseman Logan Burnette’s throwing error – the only misplay in the game – starting the fifth inning.
Thompson got Jake White on a pop-up to second, struck out Drew Godsey and Lingerfelt slapped a single to right before Tyler Biddle flied out to left-center field where Logan Fugate made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning.
“We saw him about this time last year,” McMinn County coach Jason Howard said, “and he pretty much did the same thing as he did today. He’s a tough pitcher. He was efficient. We had a little run there in the fifth with a couple of guys on, but couldn’t get one to fall in when we needed it. That’s a tribute to what a great job (Thompson) did on the mound.”
It didn’t take long for the Owls to wipe out McMinn County’s 1-0 lead.
Binder ripped a ground double into the left-field corner to score Bradley, who had reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second.
Binder came home on Kevin Dupree’s single to left. That hit sent Drew Williams, who drew a walk, to third and he scored on a delayed steal of home after Dupree swiped second and Ooltewah had a 3-1 lead.
With one out in the second, McMinn pitcher Corbin Powers hit Burnette and Fugate followed with a run-scoring double to right-center. Fugate stole third and scored on Hayden Bradley’s triple down the right-field foul line. Bradley scored on a wild pitch.
Over the next three innings Ooltewah had two more scoring opportunities, but could not stretch the lead.
“In the first two innings we were aggressive on the bases and did the little things to score some runs,” Hitchcox said. “We had chances to break the game open. We had first and second and no outs (in the third) and ground into a double play and had another groundout.
With a guy on second and no outs (in the fifth), we strikeout, groundout and fly out. If we keep making productive outs we’re a hit away from busting it open. Their guy (Powers) made some big pitches and kept them in it. Luckily, Zach was lights out today.”
David Lopez was hit by a pitch with one out in the Owls’ seventh, went to second on a groundout and scored on Fugate’s second hit, a single to right-center for Ooltewah’s final run.
Following Wednesday’s game, the Owls will turn their attention to the three-day Ooltewah Invitational starting on Thursday.
“We look forward to that because it’s our own tournament,” said Binder, who went 2-for-3 with two doubles, one RBI and scored once against the Cherokees. “We get to play all our games at home and we see some good competition.”
McMinn County 100 000 0 – 1 3 0
Ooltewah 330 001 x – 7 8 1
Powers and Odum; Thompson and Binder.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)