It hasn't been the kind of baseball season that coach Jared Hensley had planned, but his Soddy Daisy Trojans put the past behind them and played for the present and it paid off in a big way Thursday afternoon at Tom Higgins Field.
Facing second-seed Walker Valley in the District 5-AAA tournament, the Trojans won their ninth game of the season and improved to 9-21 overall with the 10-4 victory over the Mustangs, who entered the day at 18-13 overall and 9-3 in district play.
Sophomore southpaw Hunter Maynor went the distance as he earned his second win, scattering eight hits while allowing four runs. He finished with three strikeouts and just one walk while hitting a batter.
Maynor surrendered a pair of runs in the second as the Mustangs took an early lead, but the Trojans came roaring back with five runs in the third as 10 Soddy Daisy batters went to the plate.
The biggest blow was a two-out grand slam by first baseman Caden Ricketts, who ripped the first pitch past the 350-foot sign in deep center. The homer, the third of the year by the stocky young man, gave the Trojans the lead for the first time and they never looked back.
Cale Morgan was hit by a pitch to get things started with one out. Levi Thornton and Dev DeMatteo both walked to load the bases before Austin Hickey plated the first run with a sharp single to center. Ricketts then found the pitch he was looking for and parked it in the woods for the 5-2 lead.
Christian Amos and Andy Wright followed with singles, but Dillon Clift grounded to short to end the inning.
The Trojans added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings before tacking on three more in the seventh.
Morgan, who walked his last three times up, scored the sixth run on a double into the left-field corner by DeMatteo while a bases-loaded walk to Thornton plated Amos with the seventh run.
Then in the top of the seventh with the Trojans holding a 7-3 lead, Morgan walked for the third time and eventually scored on a wild pitch while Hickey and Gavin Rogers both earned walks with two outs and both scored, Hickey on a double by Ricketts and courtesy runner Austin Cooke on a single by Amos.
Logan Melton drove in two of Walker Valley's four runs, the first on a single in the second and the second on another single in the sixth. Catcher Josh Poole had singled in the second prior to Melton's first RBI while Poole was again the trigger man in the sixth when he led off with a double. Pinch runner Kelby DeJarnette scored both of those runs.
Then in the seventh with Soddy Daisy comfortably in front, designated hiitter Kamren Barnes ripped a solo homer to left with one out to draw the Mustangs within 10-4.
John Simmons and Drew Lyles both followed with singles, but Maynor got Poole on a long fly to center before Chase Prince ended the game with a pop to short.
"This was obviously a big game for us, but I just tried to look at it as another district game," said Maynor shortly after the game ended.
"I'm happy that we could get the win, but I really got fired up when Caden hit the grand slam. I felt a lot better after that," the 16-year-old added.
Ricketts had flied to center in his first at-bat leading off the second, but he guessed right with the bases full in the next inning.
"I got under it a little bit in my first at-bat, but he threw me almost the exact same pitch and it was what I was looking for," he added with a smile.
Needless to say, Hensley was happier than a young pig in a new mud hole after his team advanced to a winners bracket semifinal against Bradley on Friday afternoon.
"We had a long talk yesterday and we looked back on some of the good things we've done this year. Then we asked ourselves if we could carry over some of those good things for today's game with Walker Valley. I've never been more proud of my team as we haven't had an easy season," Hensley began.
"Hunter Maynor was simply outstanding. It was only his second win, but he's pitched well at other times when we didn't help him much. And what can you say about the grand slam by Ricketts. That was the momentum shift we needed, but he's been our leader on and off the field in recent weeks and it was nice to see him come through with a big hit.
"We had the big inning in the third, but you noticed that we came back and scored in three other innings. I was finally able to breathe a little easier with those extra runs because Walker Valley has an outstanding team. We were just a little bit better tonight," the personable leader added.
Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin was quick to point a finger at the high number of walks his team issued as a major cause of Thursday's defeat.
"You're not going to win many games when you walk a dozen and you hit a couple. We're just hoping we can reach the championship game so we can advance to the region, but Soddy Daisy came ready to play tonight and a lot of things went their way.
"We hit the ball well at times and our defense was good, but I'm not pleased with the way we pitched. You have to have all aspects if you expect to do well in this league," Shamblin added.
Both teams finished the game with eight hits.
Ricketts and Amos both had two for the Trojans while Barnes, Poole and Melton all had a pair for the Mustangs.
DeMatteo, Hickey, Wright and Clift added a hit apiece with Clift and DeMatteo both stroking doubles.
Clift was perhaps the unsung hero for the Trojans as he battled flu-like symptoms all day, but he was ready for action when the game began and he was a key to Maynor's success.
Simmons and Lyles had the other hits for Walker Valley.
While Maynor was the winning pitcher, Simmons was tagged with the loss after allowing the first six runs on four hits in three-plus innings. He was replaced by Ryan Mahaffey after a leadoff walk to Morgan in the fourth.
While Soddy Daisy is scheduled to face Bradley in Friday's first game at 5, Walker Valley will face McMinn County in a losers bracket game at 8.
TOP-SEEDED OOLTEWAH pinned a 4-0 defeat on the Cleveland Blue Raiders in Thursday's second game. The Owls advance to a Saturday match with the Bradley-Soddy Daisy winner, scheduled for 7 p.m.
Owls pitching ace Zach Thompson threw a two-hitter and struck out 15 in a shutout performance against the Blue Raiders’ Jake Wyrick. In early April, Thompson beat Cleveland, 2-1, with a five-hitter and struck out 13.
Brody Binder drove in three of Ooltewah’s four runs.
Soddy Daisy 005 110 3 -- 10 8 3
Walker Valley 020 001 1 -- 4 8 0
Maynor and Clift; Simmons, Mahaffey (4), Haynie (4) and Poole.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)