Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox always likes entering his baseball team in early season tournaments for several reasons.
First, it’s just good experience and second, it give kids a chance to prove themselves in a situation not involving a district game. And third, you get to learn more about your team and how different players act and react at different positions and what they’ll do in a tough situation where a split-second decision has to be made.
Just consider it a mission accomplished for Hitchcox and his Owls after they won the 30th annual Wildcat Classic at Hixson’s John Plumlee Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Those key district games begin on Monday as the Owls travel to Cleveland, but the veteran coach answered several questions about his team and you can be sure that he feels a lot better about them now than he did even a week ago.
The Owls are still undefeated after five games, the latest being a 12-2 victory over McMinn County in Sunday’s championship game.
Ooltewah bolted to a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the first and added three more runs in the fourth before wrapping up the win with four in the fifth. There was one out in that inning when the Owls’ lead stretched to 10 runs to end the game.
“I thought we played well today as we had some good two-strike at-bats,” Hitchcox said after a brief chat with his team afterward.
“We sent a freshman Justin McGill out there to start and really just wanted three innings out of him. He did his job and Jackson Malcolm did a good job in relief as well. That early lead always helps, especially when you have a young pitcher throwing, but I thought we ran the bases well and were able to find some holes.
“We like these early-season tournaments as we get to see guys in different roles and it also shows us what we need to work on, but I’m really proud of the way we played this weekend. Now we can go home and watch basketball for the rest of the day,” he concluded.
The Cherokees got singles from Jake Shamblin and Bradley Hayes in the first inning, but both were stranded when Carson Pope grounded to McGill for the third out.
Ooltewah didn’t waste any time as the Owls sent 10 men to the plate in the bottom of the first to score five runs.
Andrew Manning singled before Sam Zettel and Malcolm both walked to load the bases. Andy Reed then got hit by a pitch to drive in the first run while an error by the McMinn first baseman allowed the second run to cross the plate.
Trevor Wiggs then flied to left to drive in the third run before Zach Wolfe stroked a two-out, two-run single to right.
The Cherokees scored their two runs in the second.
Roman Lockmiller reached on an error before Zac Rollins got hit by a pitch with one out to put two on. Drew Phillips then loaded the bases with a sharp single to left. Ethan Belcher drove in Lockmiller with a sacrifice fly to center while the second run scored when Reed’s throw to third sailed into left field.
Wolfe led off the Ooltewah fourth with a walk before going to third on a double down the line in left by Jake Sullivan. Manning reached when a deep fly to center was dropped as Wolfe scored the sixth run. Zettel then drove in Sullivan with a sac fly to left while the final run scored on a single by Reed.
Then in the fifth, the Owls put the finishing touches on the championship win with four more runs.
Wiggs led off by getting hit with a pitch while Wolfe singled to right with one out. Pinch-hitter Payton Keiser then walked to load the bases before Jake Morrow got a walk for another RBI. Zettel then got hit by a pitch to plate the 10th run while it all ended when Malcolm’s single up the middle drove in the final two runs of the game.
McMinn County coach Matt Ray wasn’t real excited about Sunday’s results, but he also knows that you’re not going to win every time you play.
“Today was just one of those days,” he began while his players were gathering equipment from the Cherokee dugout.
“In this game, you have to bring it day in and day out. We just didn’t do that today. It’s early in the season and late in the week, but I liked our aggressiveness at the plate and I feel good about the way we executed on offense. We competed hard all weekend and that’s all I ever ask,” he said, knowing that his team has a non-district game at Polk County on Tuesday.
McGill was credited with the win after allowing two runs on three hits. He also had two strikeouts and no walks.
Phillips was the losing pitcher after allowing those five first-inning runs. He gave up three hits and walked two.
Wolfe was the offensive hero for the Owls as he singled twice and walked once while driving in two runs and scoring a pair.
The Cherokees finished with three hits with Phillips single in the second being the third after Shamblin and Hayes singled in the first.
McMINN COUNTY 020 00 – 2 3 3
OOLTEWAH 500 34 – 12 7 2
Phillips, Peterson (2), Belcher (5) and Rollins; McGill, Malcolm (4) and Reed.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)