CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Ooltewah baseball coach Brian Hitchcox hasn’t decided on his “Monday guy” for District 5-3A play yet, but senior Daniel Willie may have taken a huge step toward landing that role Monday night.
Willie (1-0) threw a complete game four-hitter, got a lot of offensive support from third baseman Austin Spurgeon and the Owls knocked off Cleveland, 3-1, at Raider Field.
“I’m excited and overwhelmed,” Willie, a senior, said. “It’s a great start to the season. This was my first win this year and 10th overall. After we went 0-5 in the district starting last year to be 2-0 is amazing.”
Wins over district foes East Hamilton and the Blue Raiders, the Owls also improved to 6-0 overall.
“It’s early to pigeon-hole guys into specific spots,” Hitchcox said. “Daniel is definitely one of our guys that we’ll depend on to battle for us. We try to put them in different spots to see who needs more rest and things like that. He really threw well for us today for sure. Their guy (Camden Sewell) did the same thing.”
The Owls and Blue Raiders (2-6, 0-3), who failed to score against Willie until the seventh inning, resume the home-and-home series on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Hitchcox and Cleveland coach Preston Scoggins decided before Monday’s game to move Tuesday’s varsity action from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. in an attempt to beat an expected 90 percent chance of rain, according to the Weather Channel forecast.
“Two great pitchers were going at it tonight,” Cleveland coach Preston Scoggins said. “I’ll trust Camden against anybody they throw out there any day of the week. He’s a fierce competitor and a great athlete. Coming into the year we planned to rely on our pitching and defense but you still have to score runs to win ballgames.”
Willie went the distance and checked the Blue Raiders on four hits – two of which came in the seventh – and struck out nine while walking one. In one stretch, he retired eight in a row before giving up a leadoff single to Ezequiel Jeserum leading off the fifth inning and then retired the next three.
Sewell gave up three runs, struck out eight and walked two in six innings. The Owls got to Sewell (0-2) for a pair of runs in the second on Spurgeon’s two-run single. Spurgeon singled in the fifth and stole second and third and scored on a fielder’s choice by Andrew Manning.
The Owls routed Red Bank 15-0 and McMinn County 12-2 while winning last weekend’s Hixson Classic and proved Monday they could win a close game as well.
The Blue Raiders have struggled scoring of late, pushing across only 10 runs in their last five games, with five coming in a four-run win against Oakland.
Jackson Malcolm singled to start the Owls’ second inning. After Andy Reed struck out, Bryce Matthews drew a walk. Both runners moved up a base when Sewell uncorked a wild pitch. Ethan Walls struck out and Spurgeon followed with a two-strike chopper over Jeserum at third to drive in the game’s first two runs.
“I was sitting on (Sewell’s) fastball,” Spurgeon said. “The whole game I had the mentality that I was going to take away his fastball. If he threw it, I was going after it. Early in the count on my first two at-bats he threw me four straight. I wanted to jump on that early fastball because I didn’t want to mess with his curveball.”
Spurgeon led off the fifth with a single to right. He quickly stole second and third. Trevor Wiggs struck out but reached safely on a third-strike wild pitch and Jake Sullivan walked to load the bases.
Manning grounded to first base. Paxton Anthony fielded the ball, made a move toward first but turned and threw home. Spurgeon beat the throw to give the Owls a 3-0 lead.
Sewell struck out Sam Zettel and Malcolm and escaped further damage by getting Reed on an infield grounder.
“It was a big game for Austin,” Hitchcox said. “That wasn’t a great matchup for him (against Sewell) but he got the chopper to score two runs and then got the leadoff hit with two strikes in the fifth and that’s a credit to him.”
Meanwhile, Willie kept punching out Blue Raider batters.
He gave up a leadoff single to center by Jeserum starting the fifth but struck out Emery King, retired Anthony on a pop to short left that shortstop Zettel chased down with an over-the-shoulder catch and Ryan Lee flied out to center field.
Willie struck out Bryce Witt to start the sixth and walked Dylan Turner. Trevor Ramsey struck out and Sewell bounced out to first.
In Cleveland’s seventh, Jake Griffin struck out and Jeserum doubled to left field. King’s long single to left scored Griffin but King was thrown out at second trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Anthony popped out to first in foul territory when Malcolm made a great diving catch going away from the infield to end the game.
Willie’s strong mound performance drew praise from Spurgeon.
“That was impressive,” he said. “I’ve never seen his breaking ball work like that. It was fun to watch.”
Ooltewah 020 010 0 – 3 6 2
Cleveland 000 000 1 -- 1 4 1
Willie and Reed, Huskin (7); Sewell, Williams (7) and Lee.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)