The first day of spring was several weeks ago, but it certainly didn't feel like it Tuesday night at Soddy Daisy's Tom Higgins Field.
With the wind whipping and temperatures in the mid 40s, it was a challenging evening for a high school baseball game. Despite the weather, Soddy Daisy hosted East Hamilton in a key District 5-AAA game with first place in the district on the line.
The Trojans are still in first place -- there was a three-way tie between Bradley, Soddy Daisy and East Hamilton at the start of the day -- following an 8-3 victory.
These same two teams are scheduled to play at Chattanooga State today with the first pitch at 6 p.m. while Bradley will host Walker Valley in a doubleheader.
Perhaps the difference in this game was the third inning as the Trojans sent a dozen hitters to the plate as they took charge with six runs. It wasn't close after that.
East Hamilton starting pitcher Matty Henshaw, who had only allowed one earned run in his previous 21 innings, got a called strike three to start the inning before the wheels completely fell off for the Hurricanes.
Six hits, two hit batters, a walk and the second of six East Hamilton errors allowed the Trojans to bat for a while.
Junior third baseman Andy Wright, who drove in the first Trojan run in the first inning with a sacrifice fly, knotted the score at 2-2 with a bloop single to shallow center. Christian Amos helped his own cause with a two-run single while Tre Carter had a run-scoring bunt single on a perfectly-executed suicide squeeze before Devan DeMatteo drove in another with a fielder's choice.
Each team scored one more run the rest of the way, but that third inning was the key for Soddy Daisy and the straw that broke the camel's back for East Hamilton.
"We challenged our guys on Monday to turn things around and that we needed to make a run," said Soddy Daisy coach Jared Hensley after his team had improved to 12-9 overall and 7-2 in 5-AAA.
"They responded. East Hamilton made a few mistakes, but we played a little bit cleaner as they played like we have been playing. It was a big district game and we knew we needed to win, but we need to come out tomorrow with the same enthusiasm we had tonight.
"We haven't totally dodged bullet as East Hamilton is a well-coached baseball team, but we just have to take care of business tomorrow," Hensley nodded.
East Hamilton coach Steve Garland, who is a close friend of Hensley, knows that Soddy Daisy has struggled defensively at times, but the shoe was on the other foot in this latest game.
"That third inning was the story," Garland began after his team fell to 14-11 overall and 6-3 in the district.
"We struck out the leadoff hitter before making a throwing error. That opened the door for them and it seemed like an avalanche from there as we couldn't seem to get the third out. Soddy Daisy came out with a ton of energy, so give them credit for a well-played game.
"They put the pressure on us early and kept it there. I felt like an early lead would be important, but Soddy Daisy answered in the bottom of the first. We had high hopes coming in, but we'll just have to bounce back tomorrow," Garland nodded.
The Hurricanes struck first with a run in the first. Hunter Parker reached on an infield single before Matt Milita beat out a bunt to put runners on first and second. Nick Woods struck out swinging, but was thrown out at first when the ball escaped Trojan catcher Dillon Clift. Parker was then gunned down at third following the throw to first.
Hunter Owen then came through with a double to the gap in right-center but Amos escaped further trouble when he got Nick Fahler on a grounder to first.
Wright's fly to left plated Austin Hickey with Soddy Daisy's first run in the first before the big six-run third.
Hickey later singled in the fifth and scored following a wild pitch and two East Hamilton errors.
Henshaw led off the second with a double and scored on a Soddy Daisy error as East Hamilton had its second lead at 2-1.
The final run for the Hurricanes came in the sixth when Fahler led off with a single and scored on a double into the left-field corner by Quinn Griffith.
East Hamilton finished with three runs on nine hits and six errors. Owen was the only Hurricane with more than one hit and he finished with three.
Soddy Daisy countered with eight runs on 10 hits and one error. Hickey, Wright and Amos all had two hits with Wright and Amos both driving in a pair of runs.
Amos was the winning pitcher after allowing two runs on six hits in four complete innings. He also had three strikeouts and a pair of walks.. Gavin Rogers finished off by allowing one run on three hits in three innings. He also had a pair of strikeouts and a walk.
There was a tense moment during the bottom of the third when Soddy Daisy second baseman got hit in the face by a pitch. He left the game at that point, but he appeared to be okay later with no apparent broken bones in his nose or upper cheek area.
EAST HAMILTON 110 001 0 -- 3 9 6
SODDY DAISY 106 010 x -- 8 10 1
Henshaw, Hollingshead (3) and Fahler; Amos, Rogers (5) and Clift.
(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)