It wasn’t a good night for District 5-3A baseball teams hoping for returns to the TSSAA state tournament next week.
Stewarts Creek, a four-year-old baseball program, earned its second straight trip to the Spring Fling on Friday night with a thrilling 6-4 sectional victory in 10-innings over Ooltewah before a beyond-capacity crowd at A.C.
“Bud” Ball Field.
“We got three runs in the first inning and were feeling really confident,” said Ethan Walls, Ooltewah’s starting pitcher. “I kind of gave (the lead) back to them. I’m proud of this team for battling throughout the game. It sucks to come up short.”
Walker Valley, the other 5-3A squad alive in the sectionals, dropped a 4-1 decision at Blackman.
Stewarts Creek coach Mike Bartlett, who joked before the game he was the school’s all-time winningest coach because he’s the only coach the Red Hawks have had, said it’s a testament to his players and assistant coaches the team is going to another Spring Fling.
“The first time was more emotional for us,” he said of the 2016 state appearance that saw Stewarts Creek split four games. “This year we started 4-5 and 2-4 in (District 7-3A) but won 26 of 29 now. We got hot at the right time.”
Stewarts Creek, which had their knees buckled when Ooltewah scored three quick runs on pitching ace Austin Steel, dodged a bullet in the ninth. Owls catcher Andy Reed hit a towering shot to right field off reliever Maddox Vondohlen that Dylan Burney coasted back and snagged on the warning track.
A few more feet and the Owls would be going to Murfreesboro for its first state tournament appearance since 2006.
Freeman hit Jake Sullivan and walked Andrew Manning. Daniel Willie, who relieved Walls after the eighth inning, flied out to right to end the threat.
“I thought we had it won a couple of times,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “I thought Reed’s ball was out and I thought Willie’s ball was going to fall in, but their guys made plays. Give them credit.”
The Red Hawks (30-8), whose only loss in the last 17 games was a 6-0 loss to Blackman in the Region 4-3A title game on Wednesday, didn’t waste their opportunity in the 10th.
Shortstop Tre Bailliez led off with a triple to right-center field. Willie struck out Gresham Mosley, the fourth time he went down on strikes. The pitch in the dirt got away from catcher Andy Reed, who retrieved the ball and looked at Bailliez at third. He turned and threw softly to first. Mosley was out, but Bailliez, the Red Hawks’ fastest player, broke for home.
“I took a few steps so I could either get back to the bag or take off,” Bailliez said. “When the catcher looked back to first and cocked his arm to throw, I took off but I slipped. There was no turning back though, so I took off again and hoped for the best. Great things happened.”
Bailliez, who Bartlett said is a “tough nut” for the Red Hawks’ football team as well, slid head first at the plate and easily beat the throw from first baseman Jackson Malcolm with the go-ahead run.
Freeman then blooped a Texas leaguer to right, the ball hit the foul line and kicked hard into foul territory. Freeman turned it into another triple. Courtesy runner Jake Alexander scored on Chase Vondohlen’s groundout with an insurance run.
“We had a rough start to our season, but got things rolling and we are in the state tournament now,” Bailliez said. “And we don’t have to pack up our uniforms.”
In the Owls’ half of the inning, Maddox Vondohlen retired designated hitter Trevor Wiggs on a pop up to short. Malcolm hit a bouncer back to Vondohlen, who threw to first for the second out.
Austin Spurgeon beat out an infield hit and went to second when third baseman Austin Steel, the Red Hawks’ starting pitcher, uncorked a wild throw to first. Jake Morrow bounced out to end the game.
“Nothing happened tonight that would make me any less proud of my team than I am,” Hitchcox said. “They gave us everything they had and we’ve had a heck of a year. We have a great group of seniors that posted up every day. To have the record we have (29-7) with the schedule we played meant guys weren’t taking days off or showing up and just going through the motions.”
The Owls jumped all over Steel in the first inning for four of their 11 hits in the game. Sullivan and Manning each singled with one out and scored on Walls’ rocket-shot double to the left-field corner.
In the sixth, Malcolm doubled, went to third on Spurgeon’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Sam Zettel. It was Zettel’s first at-bat since coming back from a senior-prom-related suspension and had a bunch of family and friends in the stands right behind home plate. Grandparents had come from Wisconsin to see the game and the senior graduation.
Blackman 4, Walker Valley 1: Blackman’s D.J. Wright and Derick Junker combined on a five-hitter to stop the Mustangs’ bid for a state tournament berth.
Wright, who went 6.1 innings, gave up all five hits and struck out five for the Blaze (28-10). Junker finished up with a four-pitch effort to end the game.
Walker Valley (23-14) scored its only run in the third inning on Grayson Rountree’s RBI hit pushed Tucker Mendenhall home.
Catcher Hunter Shamblin had two of Walker Valley’s hits.
Starter Matthew Pigg and Rountree, who came on in the sixth, checked the Blaze on six hits. Blackman scored twice in the second and added single runs in the third and sixth innings.
Stewarts Creek 020 200 000 2 – 6 8 1
Ooltewah 300 001 000 0 – 4 11 1
Steel, M. Vondohlen (7) and C. Vondohlen; Walls, Willie (9) and Reed.
Walker Valley 001 000 0 – 1 5 3
Blackman 021 001 x – 4 6 0
Pigg, Rountree (6) and Shamblin; Wright, Junker (7) and Chuba.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryflemng44)