CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Cleveland right-hander Taylor Thompson sent Soddy-Daisy hitters a clear message early in Tuesday’s District 5-AAA baseball game – “I’m on tonight, boys.”
Thompson threw a neat three-hitter and struck out 10 as the Blue Raiders defeated Soddy-Daisy, 6-1, at Raider Field to knock the Trojans out of a share of first place in the district.
“If I get settled in the first few innings I usually feel good throughout the game,” Thompson said. “I had my curve working and that was a key component against some of their bigger hitters.”
As in real estate, Thompson said the location of his pitches was critical.
“This is one of my best games locating all my pitches,” he said. “I guess my best game was against McMinn County when I had 16 strikeouts. I was getting a lot more ground balls and getting hitters out early in the count, and that’s always a good thing.”
With Bradley Central’s 3-2 win over Ooltewah, the Bears finished their district schedule with a 9-3 record. East Hamilton (8-3) can match the Bears’ mark with a win over McMinn County on Wednesday – their Tuesday game was postponed by rain.
The loss drops Soddy-Daisy to 14-14 overall and 8-4 in district play, basically locking the Trojans into a third seed for the district tournament that starts next week.
Ooltewah (15-12, 7-5) looks like the No. 4 seed.
“Taylor did a good job against us,” Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley said. “He located his fastball, threw a lot of strikes and pretty much had his way with us. I don’t want to take anything from him, but I thought our hitters had the worst approach tonight than in any other game.
“They took a lot of pitches early and chased a lot of pitches later.”
Thompson, who has three wins, started mowing down the Trojans seconds after the game began at 7:10 p.m., recording two of his 10 strikeouts against the first two batters – Dev DeMatteo and Austin Hickey.
In a stretch in the second and third innings, Thompson fanned four of five hitters. He gave up a hit in the third to DeMatteo, but struck out Levi Thornton, Cale Morgan and Austin Hickey.
Dillon Clift and Gavin Rogers got the only other hits off Thompson.
“He’s one of the best pitchers I’ve seen in our district this year,” Clift said of Thompson. “He located his curve and kept you off balance with the fastball. He actually threw me one changeup that was really impressive.”
Thompson yielded the Trojans’ only run in the seventh. Rogers singled up the middle, Andy Wright walked and Rogers moved to third on a Christian Amos fly-ball out to right. Jimbo Collins, running for Rogers, scored when pinch-hitter Grant Cordell bounced into a force out.
Cleveland coach Ted Carson visited the mound in the seventh, but was not close to yanking his gritty right-hander.
“I was just giving him a little rest,” Carson said. “I knew he wanted to finish and could finish. Every time he steps on the mound he’ll give you a solid performance. He was in a little trouble there at the end, but he’s a bulldog and worked out of it.”
Catcher Hunter Oliver, who capped a five-run, seventh-inning rally with a walk-off three-run homer to beat Ooltewah, 8-6, on April 16, has caught Thompson all season and could tell it was his pitcher’s night.
“Sometimes he goes out there nervous and gets tight,” said Oliver, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs for the Blue Raiders (9-16, 4-7). “Tonight he was calm the whole time. He was smooth. He was on.”
Oliver was an offensive nemesis for Trojans starter Ryan Mahaffey, who gave up all six runs, struck out eight and walked six over 5.2 innings.
After Mahaffey retired seven in a row – the last three by strikeouts and all on 2-2 pitches – to start the game, Derek Nichols drew a one-out walk in the third and Parker Carson fanned for the second out.
Jay McIntire then singled up the middle and Austin Dykes walked and Oliver delivered a two-run single.
Mahaffey got the Blue Raiders 1-2-3 in the fourth, but hurt his own cause with three walks in a three-run sixth.
Oliver had an RBI single, David Queen’s sacrifice fly pushed a run across and Thompson added a run-scoring single, stretching Cleveland’s lead to 5-0.
“I’m seeing the ball real good,” Oliver said. “The biggest thing for me is to stay positive and that normally does it for me.”
Parker Carson, the coach’s son, greeted Trojans reliever Oz Perez with a single that scored Nichols, who had reached on the second of three walks – he failed to get a hit but scored three runs.
Scoring a few runs for Thompson was a delight for Ted Carson, who watched the Blue Raiders go scoreless while stranding 13 runners – they left the bases loaded twice – in a 9-0 loss at Soddy-Daisy on Monday.
“We finally got some hits with runners on base,” he said.
Meanwhile, a few miles to the south on Old Highway 11, Bradley Central (17-11) got a five-hit, 10-strikeout effort from junior right-hander Ty King (5-0) and a two-run double by Tyler Carpenter in the sixth inning to edge the Owls.
The Bears got three hits off Ooltewah ace Logan Fugate, all were doubles.
Ooltewah won Monday’s series opener, 7-6, on Brody Binder’s run-scoring double in the 10th inning.
Baylor Terrell opened the sixth with a double and was sacrificed to third by Jacob Barnes. Hunter Rogers grounded out and Logan Blackwell was hit by a pitch, putting runners at first and third.
Carpenter hit a 2-2 pitch from Fugate into left-center field for a two-run double that pushed across the winning runs.
The Owls had gone ahead 2-1 in the top of the sixth. With two out, King hit Hayden Bradley and Binder doubled him home to tie the game at 1-1. Binder raced to third on the throw to home.
When the Bradley catcher tried to pick off Binder at third, the throw sailed into left field and Binder scored easily.
Caleb Pace doubled in the Bears’ first run in the third with a double that scored Chandler Duggan, who walked and stole second.
As did King, Fugate went the distance, striking out four, walking three and hitting two batters.
Binder and Caleb Collins each went 2-for-3 for the Owls.
Soddy-Daisy 000 000 1 – 1 3 1
Cleveland 002 031 x – 6 6 0
Thompson and Oliver; Mahaffey, Perez (6) and Clift.
Ooltewah 000 002 0 – 2 5 0
Bradley Central 001 002 x – 3 3 2
King and Timmons; Fugate and Binder.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)