Ooltewah softball coach Jon Massey felt his Lady Owls would need a lot of breaks to beat District 5-AAA rival East Hamilton on Thursday.
He got them, plus some strong pitching as well.
Taking advantage of the breaks that came its way, Ooltewah scored the game-winning run on Tiera Lemon’s infield grounder in the sixth inning and right-hander Cameron Baltimore overcame a shaky start to finish strong and the Lady Owls knocked off the Lady Hurricanes, 3-2.
With the bases loaded in the sixth, East Hamilton second baseman Kelsey Payne fielded Lemon’s grounder, but did not have a play on the speedy Ooltewah player at first base and Shelby Sutton scored the game-winner from third base.
“I knew we’d have to play a great game and still get some breaks for us to win,” Massey said. “We played well enough to win and Cameron threw as good a game as I’ve ever seen. And we made some plays behind her.”
Right after celebrating their win over the Lady Hurricanes, the Lady Owls hosted Polk County to officially start the Ooltewah Invitational. The Lady Owls (10-5) won, 11-7, over the Lady Wildcats (12-3) in a game cut to four innings by a time limit that will be utilized in this weekend’s tournament.
“We knew Polk County would play hard and do all the right things,” Massey said of the Lady Wildcats. “I wasn’t sure how we would play after the emotional win over East Hamilton. We’ll get this day behind us and move on to Friday if the weather cooperates.”
East Hamilton started the first game by scoring two runs in the first inning off Baltimore.
Alyssa Strickler singled and was sacrificed to second by Lady Hurricanes pitcher Rachel Gamble. Payne popped out to third, but Tori Harris moved Strickler to third. Strickler momentarily stopped, but when center fielder Allie Jones failed to pick the ball up cleanly, Harris scampered home on the error.
Tori Barnes followed with a single to center and Harris scored easily and East Hamilton (13-4, 5-1) had the early advantage.
“And I thought we’d score in every inning after the good start,” said East Hamilton coach Norma Nelson, who coached at Ooltewah for 10-plus years, the last 16 as head coach. “But we didn’t score again. (Baltimore) made us look terrible. That was very frustrating.”
The Lady Owls (4-3 in district play) had an answer.
They scored twice in the bottom half of the first.
Ashunti Cooper led off with a single on the ensuing errant throw to first.
Tiera Lemon’s sacrifice bunt moved Cooper to third and she scored when Jones punched a hit to right field. Sloan Sullivan singled to right and Aubbie Collak’s run-scoring hit to left tied the game.
Baltimore then found her groove.
She faced 13 batters – one over the minimum – over the next four innings and no runner got past first base.
Baltimore used 19 pitches to get out of the first inning.
She needed 10 each in the second and third, seven in the fourth and five in the fifth – a total of 32 pitches and 20 were strikes.
“The defense was really good and I’m very happy with everyone,” said Baltimore, who struck out one and walked two while limiting the Lady Hurricanes to five hits – three over the final six innings.
East Hamilton’s fourth and five hits – singles by Gamble and Payne – opened the sixth against Baltimore, who wild-pitched them to third and second.
Harris popped up to second baseman Sloan Sullivan, but the ball popped out of her glove and over her shoulder. However, Jones, the center fielder, was right behind her and grabbed the ball before it hit the ground.
Baltimore retired Barnes on a grounder to Sullivan.
Savannah Daniels hit a soft liner to Sullivan.
“I did really well,” Baltimore said. “I agree with coach Massey that that’s the best game I’ve pitched.”
With one out in Ooltewah’s half of the inning, Shelby Sutton singled down the right-field foul line and moved to second when pinch-hitter Kendall Cox reached on an infield error. Cooper’s single loaded the bases.
Lemon pushed a grounder to first baseman Samantha Murray, who did not throw home and the speedy Lemon ran past her to reach first safely with a hit, sending Sutton home with the game-winning run.
Baltimore knew what the Lady Owls had to do next.
“I wanted everybody to stay strong and back me up,” she said. “I wanted us to get the win because East Hamilton is a really good team. I wanted us to prove we could beat a good team.”
East Hamilton’s Emma Brooks, pinch-hitting for Amber Phillips, hit a grounder up the middle that tipped Baltimore’s glove, rolled toward second where shortstop Lemon grabbed it, spun and fired to first to get Brooks.
Maggie Woods reached on first baseman Elizabeth Novelli’s error. Murray walked and Miracle Gorman came on as a courtesy runner.
Strickler lined out to Sullivan, who threw to first to double-up Gorman to end the game.
“I felt like we needed to hold East Hamilton to fewer than five runs to have a chance to compete with an upper echelon team. We were able to do that.”
Polk County, 5-0 in District 5-AA play, scored three runs in the first inning against Novelli, who has signed to play softball at Tennessee Wesleyan College, on Hannah Triplett’s single and Hannah Withrow followed with a two-run homer to left.
The Lady Owls responded with six runs in their half of the first. Chandler Cox had a two-run double while Jones, Sullivan and Collak all had RBI singles and Cox eventually scored on a groundout.
The Lady Wildcats continued to attack Novelli in the second and scored four more runs and regained the lead at 7-6.
Felicia Johnson had a run-scoring single, Aubrey Bowman walked and Kaitlyn Williams grounder back to the mound turned into an out at the plate. Johnson and Bowman scored on Brianna Muller’s double off reliever Jadyn Raschke. Williams later scored on a balk.
Ooltewah would not be denied its third straight win, one that snapped Polk County’s seven-game winning streak.
The Lady Owls scored three times in the second on Jones’ single, a groundout and wild pitch to go up 9-7.
In the third, Josie Cain reached on a double and scored on another infield miscue and Sutton, who singled, came home on Sullivan’s fielder’s choice.
“We swung the bats pretty good,” Massey said. “We’re still trying to find the right combination and we’re getting there. The girls always play hard and I’m proud of them. It would have been easy for them to not play well after that emotional win over East Hamilton, but they didn’t do that.”
Polk County coach Bill Triplett said his squad saw something they don’t usually see in 5-AA play – and that’s speed.
“We don’t come up against athletes in our district that Ooltewah has,” he said. “We had to play great to win, but didn’t play good defense and some of that was because Ooltewah can put pressure on you with that speed.
“We don’t see that and we don’t have that. We have 500 students and Ooltewah probably has 1,500 or something like that. We’ve got every kid in our school that can play softball out for softball.”
East Hamilton 200 000 0 – 2 5 2
Ooltewah 200 001 X – 3 10 2
Gamble and Brooks; Baltimore and Williams.
Polk County 340 0 – 7 4 2
Ooltewah 632 x – 11 9 2
Muller and Withrow; Novelli, Raschke (2) and K. Cox.
Ooltewah Invitational Schedule
At The Summitt
Shelbyville vs. Rhea County, 4
Grundy County vs. Rhea County, 5:30
Grundy County vs. Shelbyville, 7
Todd County Ky. vs. Loudon, 5:30
Todd County Ky. vs. Bledsoe County, 7
Cleveland vs. Marion County, 4
Bledsoe County vs. Boyd-Buchanan, 5:30
Collierville vs. Marion County, 7
Collierville vs. Cleveland, 8:30
McMinn County vs. Virginia High, 5:30
Ooltewah vs. Virginia High, 7
McMinn County vs. McMinn Central, 4
Cumberland County vs. McMinn Central, 5:30
Bledsoe County vs. Loudon, 7
Ooltewah vs. Sequoyah, 4
Sequoyah vs. Polk County, 5:30
McMinn County vs. Polk County, 7
Columbia vs. Cumberland County, 8:30
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)