The fact that a local newspaper picked Ooltewah to finish fifth in District 5-AAA’s baseball race this spring had the Owls riled up. In that same poll, Soddy-Daisy was tabbed as the preseason favorite.
On a miserable night for baseball, Ooltewah extended its recent dominance of Soddy-Daisy with a 2-0 victory on Monday night at Tom Higgins Field behind the two-hit pitching and solid hitting of Logan Fugate.
“We came in here with a mad attitude because we were picked fifth and Soddy-Daisy was No. 1,” Fugate said. “We played with a chip on our shoulders. It was a tough game, but we hit the ball pretty well, pitched well and the defense behind me was amazing.”
The left-handed Fugate limited the Trojans to a pair of hits – Dillon Clift’s first-inning single and a double by Caden Ricketts in the fourth – while striking out six and walking seven. Both Trojans that reached safely with hits were part of inning-ending double plays that left runners stranded at second base.
With one out in the sixth, Soddy-Daisy’s Austin Hickey walked but tried to steal second base and was caught in a 2-6-3 rundown. Fugate struck out Clift to end the inning.
Fugate was in a deep jam an inning later when the Trojans loaded the bases with a one-out, two-base fielding error in left field and a pair of two-out walks. But Fugate whiffed Tre Carter for the second time, ending the game with the temperature at 43, wind chill factor at 39 and a heavy mist falling.
“Logan was a warrior and leader out there for us,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “That sums up how he performed tonight – offensively, defensively, running bases hard, sliding and diving around. For this team, we want the ball in his hands when it matters.”
Hitchcox, whose Owls (3-1, 1-0) have beaten the Trojans seven straight times, was keeping a close eye on Fugate from the time the seventh inning started.
Over six innings Fugate had thrown 70 pitches, including needing just 24 to get through the third, fourth and fifth frames.
Fugate (2-0) said he was a bit jittery in the final inning when Soddy-Daisy mounted its most serious threat of the game and forced him to dish up 37 more offerings.
“I threw some borderline pitches there,” he said. “Sometimes the plate ump called him and sometimes he didn’t. I was a little nervous and just had to deal with the moment. I just didn’t want it to get to me.”
Hitchcox was ready to go get Fugate, but resisted the temptation.
“He was in very good shape with his pitch count through six,” Hitchcox said, “but that shows you the type team Soddy-Daisy is because they battled back, had some very tough at-bats and put themselves in a situation where they could have tied it or won it.
“I was on the top step over there because his pitch count got up and the weather wasn’t good, but he kept telling me, ‘Coach, I’ve got it.’ I might have had to fight him to get him out of the game, so we let him stay in there.”
Soddy-Daisy (2-2, 2-1) pitching made it difficult for the Owls to put any runs on the board – they left the bases loaded in the second and third innings. Starter Hunter Maynor and Christian Amos combined to strike out 15 – Amos had nine in four scoreless innings of relief – and Ooltewah got both runs in the third.
Again, Fugate, who went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and single and scored one of the Owls’ two runs, was right in the middle of the game’s only offense that produced resulted in scores.
Hayden Bradley led off with a walk, stole second and scored on Fugate’s triple into the right-field corner. Mitch Duncan walked and stole second and with one out Kyle Kapherr drew another walk from Maynor, who then plunked Bryson Owen to force in the second run.
Maynor ended the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
“I was feeling good at the plate,” Fugate said. “I was getting some good pitches to hit. Their last guy (Amos) threw the ball pretty well. He’s got a very good off-speed pitch. It looks like a fastball until it gets right to you.”
Amos came in to start the fourth and retired eight in a row before London Elrod singled to shallow right. Elrod advanced to second and third on wild pitches and Amos hit Brody Binder. He struck out Bradley – that gave him three in the inning – to end threat.
In each of the other six innings, Maynor and Amos had at least two strikeouts. They got Vince Vantiegham three times in the game while Binder, Bradley, Caleb Collins and Kapherr each whiffed twice.
“I can’t ask any more from our pitchers,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said. “Fifteen strikeouts, holy Toledo. It was just Ooltewah’s night. We put a little pressure on them at the end, but we have to come back tomorrow night and play again. We can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We probably need a little more sense of urgency earlier than what we had tonight, but we’ll be OK.”
Respect started coming the Trojans’ way during the 2013 district tournament on their home field. Soddy-Daisy went in with an 8-21 record, but beat No. 2 seed Walker Valley and No. 3 Bradley Central to reach the semifinals. The Owls interrupted Soddy-Daisy’s run with a 3-1 win.
The Trojans then beat No. 4 Cleveland, 10-1, for second place and eventually lost to Cookeville, 7-3, in the Region 3-AAA tournament semifinals.
That’s why Hitchcox wasn’t fretting over the Trojans’ pick as the preseason favorite.
“Based on who we lost and who we had coming back and what other teams had coming back, it didn’t bother me,” he said. “Maybe the guys took it to heart and that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not something we harp on. We harp on playing the game the right way and playing hard to get better every day.”
The two teams conclude the two-game series on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Ooltewah’s A.C. “Bud” Ball Field.
“We’re off to a good start,” Fugate said, “but we’ll wipe this one off as soon as we get to sleep tonight and come out tomorrow with the same attitude. We don’t want a split.”
Ooltewah 002 000 0 – 2 6 1
Soddy-Daisy 000 000 0 – 0 2 0
Fugate at Binder; Maynor, Amos (4) and Clift.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)