East Hamilton put the finishing touches on the seedings for next week’s District 5-AAA baseball tournament at Ooltewah High with a 10-4 victory over McMinn County on Wednesday at Chattanooga State.
The win gives the Hurricanes (19-13, 9-3) the No. 1 seed for the tournament, meaning Bradley Central (17-11, 9-3) will be the second seed. With East Hamilton’s win, Walker Valley got the No. 6 seed and McMinn County fell to No. 7.
“All you get for this is a bye,” Hurricanes coach Steve Garland said. “But it’s going to be a dogfight up at Ooltewah. We’ve been through a lot. We had two guys (first baseman Austin Gatewood and second baseman Kyle Cox) get injured before the season and didn’t play at all.
We thought our on-campus baseball field would be ready, but it wasn’t, so we bounced around playing where we could again. I’m really proud how my guys have handled themselves. They scrapped all season.”
East Hamilton got the top spot with the district tie-breaker. The Hurricanes split with Bradley and Soddy-Daisy and split with Ooltewah. Bradley split with the Owls, so the top seed and bye went to East Hamilton.
Third-seed Ooltewah (15-12, 7-5), the defending tournament champion, will play No. 5 Cleveland (10-18, 5-7) at 5 p.m. next Wednesday in the tournament’s opening game. No. 3 Soddy-Daisy (14-14, 8-4) takes on No. 6 Walker Valley (10-18, 2-10) at 8 p.m.
The championship game is scheduled for May 7 at 4 p.m., with an “if necessary” game would follow.
East Hamilton pummeled three McMinn County (11-16, 2-10) for 14 hits. Catcher Nick Fahler went 2-for-2 with five RBIs on a two-run single, a one-run single, sacrifice fly and bases-loaded walk to lead the offensive onslaught.
Hunter Parker was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs; Hunter Owen went 2-for-4 with a double and scored three runs; Nicholas Woods was 2-for-4 with a double and one RBI and Matty Henshaw added a run-scoring triple.
Hunter Smith (4-2) was the winning pitcher, working 5.2 innings and Ethan Hollingshead mopped up.
Garland is back in Class AAA – the Hurricanes moved up from Class AA after the 2012-13 school year – after spending 11 years at Soddy-Daisy. He has coached against some of the same coaches that attended Wednesday’s meeting to finalize plans for next week’s tournament.
After a full season in 5-AAA, Garland has a pretty good perspective on what ahead for his Hurricanes.
“There is parity from top to bottom,” he said. “Everybody’s close. It’s a balanced league and it often comes down to matchups. Some teams match up differently, depending on who’s on the mound. It’s not that anybody would be a favorite in any game. It’s what the matchups look like for that day.”
As an example, the Hurricanes had to fight to put away McMinn County on Monday, 3-0. One of their district losses was to Walker Valley (3-0 on March 25).
There’s equality at the top of the district as well.
On Monday, Ooltewah beat Bradley Central, 7-6, in 10 innings on Brody Binder’s double. The next night, the Bears pulled out a 3-2 win over the Owls by scoring twice in the sixth inning.
East Hamilton swept Cleveland, 2-0, in 11 innings and Blue Raiders pitching ace Taylor Thompson went nine innings. The Hurricanes won that game on a Nicholas Woods two-run homer in the 11th.
“When top pitchers for the district teams are going, that’s a great equalizer,” Bears coach Travis Adams said. “When those good pitchers are throwing well it hides weaknesses in your offense or defense. You have to play those games perfectly.
“If you take an inning off, sometimes even a pitch off, you can mess up a game real quick. It has to be game on and that’s baseball this time of the year. The kids have to find a way to be consistent.”
Soddy-Daisy, which caught fire last year to finish runner-up to Ooltewah in the tournament and earn a spot in the Region 3-AAA semifinals, lost at Bradley, 8-1, and bounced back to beat the Bears, 4-3.
The Trojans beat Cleveland, 9-0, on Monday and then lost to the Raiders, 6-1, on Tuesday and got only three hits off Thompson. They beat East Hamilton, 8-3, and lost the next day, 4-3.
In mid-March, the Owls shut out Soddy-Daisy, 2-0, and then lost 10-3 a day later.
Get the idea?
“I don’t think there’s one game in this bracket that would really be an upset if it went to the lower seed,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “I think we’ve all got number ones (pitchers) that can beat anybody. Each team has things it can do better than other teams. It’s a very balanced district and somebody’s going to have to get hot at the right time.”
That’s what Soddy-Daisy did last year.
The Trojans went into the tournament as the No. 7 seed with an 8-21 record and had lost five of their last seven games, including a series sweep to Walker Valley, 8-3 and 4-0.
A week later Walker Valley was the tourney’s No. 2 seed when it faced Soddy-Daisy.
The Trojans beat the Mustangs, 10-4. Then they knocked off No. 3 Bradley Central, 10-5, before losing to No. 1 Ooltewah, 3-1. Soddy-Daisy bumped off Cleveland, 10-1, in the loser’s bracket to secure the No. 2 finish and advance to the region semifinals where it lost to ninth-ranked Cookeville, 7-3.
“We were the poster child for getting hot at the right time last year,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said. “I can definitely see anybody in this tournament doing that. Every one of these coaches does an incredible job preparing their teams for the postseason.
“It’s always fun and exciting and somebody will always surprise some people along the way.”
McMinn County 000 004 0 – 4 6 2
East Hamilton 203 035 x – 10 14 3
Lingerfelt, Simpson (5), Godsey (6) and Fesmire; Smith, Hollingshead (6) and Fahler.
District 5-AAA Tournament
Wednesday, April 30
(Seed in parenthesis)
(4) Ooltewah vs. (5) Cleveland, 5 p.m.
(3) Soddy-Daisy vs. (6) Walker Valley, 8 p.m.
Thursday, May 1
(2) Bradley Central vs. (7) McMinn County, 5 p.m.
(1) East Hamilton vs. Ooltewah-Cleveland winner, 8 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)