Ooltewah catcher Brody Binder hit an opposite-field double into the right-field corner to push Logan Fugate home with the winning run and the Owls beat league-leading Bradley Central, 7-6, in a 10-inning District 5-AAA baseball thriller on Monday night at A.C. Bud Ball Field.
“Good Lord, that was a long game,” Owls center fielder Logan Fugate said. “That’s the biggest win we’ve played. It was a mental toughness game because we’ve lost a lot of close games this year. We didn’t quit and needed this win.”
In other games involving two of the other top-tier teams, Soddy-Daisy blanked Cleveland, 9-0, and East Hamilton shut out McMinn County, 3-0.
With one regular-season game on Tuesday remaining for all four contenders, the Bears, Trojans and Hurricanes all have 8-3 district records. Ooltewah is 7-4 and 15-11 overall.
The Owls and Bears continue the home-and-home series Tuesday at Bradley Central. Game time is 7 p.m.
“We’ll get back at it and see if we can’t get another one,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “We had opportunities to win this one and they had opportunities to win. We gave up the lead in the seventh and our guys could have folded, but they didn’t.
“It wasn’t a textbook game and ugly at times, but at the end of the day these kids kept battling.”
Binder had singles in the first and second innings, hit into a double play in the fourth, was hit by a pitch in the sixth and intentionally walked in the eighth.
Errors by Bradley Central middle infielders – the Bears had four miscues in the game – put Fugate and Bradley on second and first, respectively, in the 10th inning. The two Owls were on the base paths all night, combining for seven hits in 12 at-bats, scoring six times and Bradley drove in two runs.
Throw in Binder’s 3-for-4 game with a run scored and two RBIs, the Owls’ top three hitters collectively went 10-for-16 with seven runs and four RBIs.
Bradley coach Travis Adams visited Bears pitcher Seth Lee on the mound just before Binder stepped in the batter’s box for the final time.
Binder worked Lee to a 1-2 count and fouled off a third pitch in the zone.
On the next delivery, Lee sent a fastball at Binder, who ripped the ball down the right-field foul line – fair by about 18 inches – and Fugate scored without a throw to end the 3-hour, 14-minute marathon.
“It was a fastball away,” said Binder, “and I just tried to go with it. This was a big for our team. We lost some leads late all year long, but we battled back tonight and that one hit was huge for us all.”
Said Hitchcox, “Brody had a good approach in that at-bat. He’s been fighting it lately because guys have been pitching him tough and sometimes pitching around him. Finally, in that situation they had to pitch to him and he got the ball just inside the foul line.”
Bradley (16-11) tied the game in the seventh against Caleb Collins, who relieved starter Mitch Duncan to start the sixth when the Owls left-hander worked out of a bases-loaded jam on Logan Blackwell’s bouncer back to the mound.
In the seventh, however, Chandler Duggan singled and scored on Cal Pickel’s double to left. Pickel went to third on a groundout and scored when Jacob Barnes grounded out second-to-first.
Collins was back in the soup an inning later.
Kyler Lynn reached on an error and was sacrificed to second. Duggan singled Lynn to third. Pickel flied out to left fielder Bryson Owen, who threw a one-hop strike to Binder at home in time for the tag on the sliding Lynn to complete an inning-ending double play.
Collins retired the Bears in order in the top of the 10th inning on a groundout, fly-ball out and strikeout.
“Their guys some hits off Caleb, but he got outs when he needed them,” Hitchcox said. “Their guy (Lee) did a heck of a job, too. Both guys pitched their guts out.”
Ooltewah starter Mitch Duncan was as gritty as Collins.
Three times Duncan, who normally plays shortstop, escaped bases-loaded situations.
The Bears (16-11) got to him for two runs in the second on Tyler Carpenter’s double and a bases-loaded walk by Caleb Pace. Another walk with the bases jammed pushed another Bradley run across in the third.
Collins got the Bears in order in the fourth, but gave up a run-scoring single to Pickel in the sixth that pulled Bradley to within 6-4.
Duncan and Collins combined for 10 walks and five strikeouts.
Monday’s bottom line for the Bears was stranding 16 runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings. Also on that line were the two costly errors in the 10th.
“We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror,” Adams said. “The first and last innings were all on us. We messed this up.”
Bradley starter Brett Standifer didn’t fare so well.
The Owls came out smoking and hitting blue-darters in all directions against the former Soddy-Daisy quarterback who has spent his senior season with Bradley’s football and baseball teams.
Fugate and Bradley were on fire.
Fugate’s first three hits – a triple and two singles – came on four Standifer pitches in the first four innings. It took Bradley eight pitches to collect three successive singles over the same span.
Through four innings Fugate and Bradley were a combined 6-for-6 with five runs scored and two RBIs – both on Bradley singles that scored Fugate.
“I don’t like to take strikes,” Fugate said. “Coach is always telling us to jump on the fastball. That’s what I do.”
Fugate flied out to deep center on the first pitch he saw from Lee in the sixth and went five pitches deep before cracking a single to right in the eighth. He hit a first-pitch grounder to second in the 10th that bounced off Duggan at second, triggering the game-winning rally.
So Fugate’s 4-for-6 production, resulting in his scoring four times, came on a total of 10 pitches.
Ooltewah designated hitter Jackson Malcolm’s two-run double capped the Owls’ three-run first.
Ooltewah led 6-4 going into the seventh inning, but the Bears got a run-scoring double from ninth-place hitter Cal Pickel and a RBI groundout by Jacob Barnes off Ooltewah reliever Caleb Collins to send the game into extra innings.
Bradley Central 021 010 2 000 – 6 10 4
Ooltewah 320 100 0 001 – 7 15 2
Standifer, Lee (4) and Timmons, Lynn (5); Duncan, Collins (6) and Binder.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)