Siegel showed Ooltewah why the Stars have lost only one baseball game this season.
Four pitchers combined on a three-hit shutout and Siegel clipped Ooltewah, 1-0, in a well-played, 74-minute high school baseball game on Saturday at Ooltewah High.
Ooltewah had a strong pitching as well.
The third-ranked Stars (17-1) had no luck extending a 1-0 first-inning lead against the Owls' emerging relief star C.J. Harden over the final six innings.
“If pitchers throw strikes and you play good defense, you’ve got a chance to win any ballgame,” Siegel coach Craig Reavis said. “We’ve only played one bad game all season and we lost it. We have made 16 errors this season and five game in that loss.”
Harden came on for starter Daniel Willie after one inning and shut down Siegel, which still managed to win its 14th straight game.
Harden, who relies heavily on a forkball, gave up one hit – Chase Sloan’s ground single to left field in the third.
“This is my first year to throw that forkball,” said Harden, who struck out two and walked two. “My change-up wasn’t working so well, so I decided to try and it’s working out for me.”
The right-handed Harden allowed a runner in the fourth, but the Owls turned a double play to thwart that threat.
With one out in the seventh, Harden walked Peyton Nolan and Shawn Rodgers put down a sacrifice bunt and was safe when third baseman Hayden Bradley booted the slow roller.
Harden struck out Logan Black and induced Kyle Clary into a trademark groundout to end the inning.
“C.J. threw it great,” said Owls coach Brian Hitchcox, his team now 10-5 after having its six-game winning streak snapped. “He kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”
Hitchcox’s pitching plan was to let starter Daniel Willie go two innings and then bring in Harden and give him a couple innings. However, when Harden kept befuddling the Stars’ lineup with groundball-inducing pitches, Hitchcox decided to let the young pitcher keep going.
“He was just throwing too well to take him out,” Hitchcox said. “Our plan worked like a charm except that the guys didn’t execute a few plays when we had chances to score. Against a team like Siegel, which pitches well and plays solid defense, the margin for error is small.”
Willie walked Stars leadoff batter Connor Moss to start the game and he promptly stole second. Chase Sloan reached on shortstop Mitch Duncan’s throwing error, with Moss scoring on the play.
Sloan also stole second ahead of Blake Benefield’s fly-ball out to right. Nick Kristinus walked and Carson Lester flied out to center to end the inning.
Harden came on to start the second inning and retired the first five. Sloan had a two-out single, stole second and Benefield drew a walk. Owls third baseman Hayden Bradley fielded a Kristinus grounder and forced out Sloan at third.
Lester was safe on Duncan’s second throwing error to start the fourth, but Peyton Nolan lined into a 4-3 double play and Johnny Rodgers flied out to end the inning.
Harden retired the Stars in order on 10 pitches in the fifth and did the same thing in the sixth, but needed only seven pitches.
With one out in the seventh, Nolan walked and Rodgers reached when Bradley misplayed Rodgers’ sacrifice bunt cleanly.
Not easily rattled, Harden struck out Logan Black and Kyle Clary grounded out to escape the jam.
Harden got 13 ground-ball outs and only two outs were recorded by Ooltewah outfielders.
“Their guy threw really well,” Reavis said of Harden. “He’s got a lot of movement on that one pitch (forkball) he throws.”
Said Harden, “I’ve got a lot of confidence in that pitch.”
Siegel’s pitchers threw confidently – and hard – as well and that was one reason the game lasted only 1 hour and 14 minutes.
Benefield, the Stars’ 6-foot-3-inch, 195-pound right-handed starter, worked four innings and gave up all three Ooltewah hits. He walked two while picking up the win.
Josh Carroll, Anthony Jordan and Clary combined for three hitless innings, with Clary recording two strikeouts in the seventh.
“Blake is probably the fourth guy in our rotation,” Reavis said, “but he’s probably as good as the top three. I really like him at third base and we’ve got good enough arms that we don’t have to use him for our district series.”
Benefield gave up a leadoff single to the Owls’ Brody Binder in the first, but he was forced out by a Caleb Collins infield grounder. Collins was thrown out trying to steal second ahead of Logan Fugate being hit by a pitch. Bradley grounded out to end the inning.
With two out in the third, Collins ripped a double to right-center and Fugate singled him to third. Bradley lined out to first.
Benefield got the final out of the fourth and the three Siegel relievers retired the final nine to end the game – they didn’t allow a ball out of the infield.
“This kind of game is exactly what we needed,” Hitchcox said. “We played a high-level game against a really good team that has great pitching and defense. I’ve had a couple teams that were so strong in pitching and defense they thought they could win every game. Siegel has the same thing.
“For us to play that well against a team like Siegel tells you how far we’ve come this year.”
Siegel 100 000 0 – 1 2 0
Ooltewah 000 000 0 – 0 3 3
Benefield, Carroll (5), Jordan (6), Clary (7) and Rodgers; Willie, Harden (2) and Binder.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)