CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Bradley Central’s Ty King limited visiting Ooltewah to one hit and no earned runs and picked up two hits of his own Monday night, powering the Bears to a season-opening 6-3 District 5-AAA baseball victory over the Owls at Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex.
King held the Owls hitless and allowed just one base runner – he hit Jackson Malcolm in the second – through four innings before giving up three runs in the fifth, two coming on ninth-place hitter Sam Zettel’s single up the middle.
“I felt good early,” said King, who threw a three-hit shutout against Soddy-Daisy to win last spring’s District 5-AAA tournament championship game. “I lost my focus and some command of my pitches in that one inning, but I knew my teammates would pick me up if I just threw strikes and get me out of it.”
King, 7-0 against district foes in 2014, started knowing coach Travis Adams had him on an 80-pitch limit. He got through four innings on just 36 pitches, but threw 29 when the Owls were aided by a Bradley error and King hit a batter.
Ooltewah had four base runners in the fifth, but only two others – both were hit by a King pitch – managed to reach first.
“One positive thing we can take from this,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said, “is the one inning we had a chance to score we got three runs. We were completely shut down. When you get one hit you’re going to be limited unless they’re walking a bunch of hitters and they weren’t.”
King and reliever Chandler Hamilton set the Owls down in order in the first, third, fourth and seventh innings. King hit Malcolm Jackson with two out in the second and he stayed at first base. Hamilton hit Caleb Collins to start the sixth, but retired the next six to pick up the save.
“I just did my job,” said Hamilton, expected to be Adams’ Tuesday pitcher this season.
District 5-AAA teams play home-and-away series on Monday and Tuesday throughout the regular season. The Bears are scheduled to play at Ooltewah’s A.C (Bud) Ball Field on Tuesday, weather permitting. There is a 70 to 80 percent chance of rain all the way through Friday.
“We’re going to try and play Tuesday and Wednesday,” Adams said. If we can’t, then we’ll have to get together and set a date for the second game. It’s crappy, but you just have to deal (with the weather).”
King, whose only 2014 loss was a 5-0 setback against Cookeville in the Region 3-AAA semifinals, looked like he was in mid-season form from the start of Monday’s game.
He retired the first five before hitting Malcom. Ooltewah’s Hunter Conrad grounded out to end the inning.
King retired six in a row before his mound foe, Mitch Duncan, reached on an error by third baseman Cason Still to start the fifth.
King wild-pitched Duncan to second and walked Malcolm. Both runners advanced on Conrad’s sacrifice bunt and King hit Tyler Robertson to load the bases.
On a 2-1 pitch, Zettel, a sophomore who started several games last season, stroked a two-run single up the middle for the lone hit off Bradley pitching.
“I was looking for something middle out so I could go to the right side and move the runners over,” Zettel said. “I got a fastball down the center.”
The line drive sailed over the infield, just to the right-field side of second base.
Hayden Bradley grounded out weirdly 3-4-3 – the ball deflected off first baseman Gunner Norwood’s mitt and bounced directly to second baseman Tanner Cox, who threw back to Norwood for the out. Robertson went to third and Zettel moved to second on the play.
King balked Robertson home with the third run, but retired London Elrod on a fly-ball to left field for the third out.
That’s when Adams decided to let Hamilton finish the game.
“Ty had a little bump there in the fifth, but he was getting around the pitch limit we had set up,” Adams said. “Chandler is pretty much my Tuesday guy and he only threw 20 pitches. We not play Tuesday or Wednesday, so I wasn’t going to leave him on the shelf in a game like this.”
The simple fact is King, who won seven games last season against district foes with an ERA under 0.54, and Hamilton were more than the Owls could handle, except for the one three-run inning.
“We knew it would be tough on us with practically not time on the field, but everybody’s in the same boat,” Hitchcox said. “This is the most blind we’ve gone into the year. And the ballgame came down to them having good at-bats in big spots when they came up big and their pitchers kept us from doing that.
“Any other time we had a hint of a rally their pitchers made pitches and got us out.”
The Owls had six base runners the entire game. Two reached when hit by pitches, one walked, one reached on an error and Zettel singled.
“It’s early and we don’t really know what to expect out of a lot of young guys,” Hitchcox said. “The big thing is for us to continue to get better and not get too caught up in wins and losses.”
The Bears got to Duncan for two runs in each of the first two innings.
Carpenter walked and stole second and with two outs King and Austin Calfee delivered back-to-back doubles that produced two runs.
In the Bears’ second inning, Carpenter had a run-scoring single and Cox, who had walked, scored when Owls right-fielder Robertson dropped the ball after fielding the ball hit by Carpenter.
Nursing its 4-3 lead, Bradley Central got to Owls side-armed reliever C.J. Harden for the two insurance runs in the sixth.
King, the only player in the game with more than one hit, singled to right-center field and Logan Newberry entered as a courtesy runner and was promptly thrown out trying to steal second. Calfee walked, stole second and Hamilton ripped a single over Robertson’s head in right field for the Bears’ fifth run.
Hunter James, running for Hamilton, later scored on Zettel’s fielding error, the Owls’ third of the game.
Duncan settled himself over the next three innings, retiring all nine he faced, including three strikeouts.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Duncan said. “We made a few mistakes and Bradley took advantage and scored some runs.”
Said Hitchcox added, “I thought Duncan threw the ball well. He kept us in the game and we had a chance to win right up to Bradley’s sixth and that ball hit over our right fielder’s head.”
Ooltewah 000 030 0 – 3 1 3
Bradley Central 220 002 x – 6 6 1
Duncan, Harden (6) and Vantiegham; King, Hamilton (6) and Mantooth.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)