Four of his batters went without a hit and only two drove in runs, but Ooltewah High School baseball coach Brian Hitchcox saw as close to a complete game as he has seen from his Owls.
They collected eight hits, committed just one error and got quality pitching from Jared Ryan and Cody Rhinehart in a 3-1 victory Thursday against South Pittsburg in the opening game of the Ooltewah Invitational.
The Owls also had their catalyst firing on all cylinders, which was a blessing because he scored all three of their runs.
That was senior leadoff man Drew Toth. The Tennessee Tech signee went 3-for-4 with a double and stole two bases. He was able to smile rather broadly after the win, which showed the improvement he has made from a year ago.
"I played this past summer with a wood bat and I figured out that I'm a singles guy. Last spring I was thinking long ball," he said.
He has become a prime cog in the Owls' offense, Hitchcox said.
"He's our table-setter, especially when he doesn't try to do too much and uses his speed," the coach advised. "The new bats helped change his approach, and he has so much speed that he sometimes slows the game down because of the pickoff throws he draws."
Toth's effort almost overshadowed Ryan's and Rhinehart's combined two-hit pitching. They allowed just six baserunners.
"Ryan had a quality start," Hitchcox said. "He kept the ball down and was able to keep them off balance. He worked quickly and threw strikes, which allowed the defense to make plays. He reached his pitch count [after four innings] so we went to Rhinehart."
In picking up the save, Rhinehart did not give up a hit and pitched to the minimum in the final three innings.
Although its record is 5-3, South Pittsburg is struggling. The Pirates lost in their own tournament last week to Cannon County, which Pirates coach Wes Stone said had lost 35 straight games dating back to last year. And two of the Pirates' wins were forfeits from Richard Hardy.
"We're not hitting the ball and we did not play very well today," he said. "Pitching and defense kept giving us a chance, and Matt [Allen] pitched about as well as he can pitch."
The hitting was slow coming around a year ago before the Pirates' streak carried them into the Class A state tournament, but "it wasn't this bad," Stone pointed out.
And he wasn't going to hide behind the fact that the Class A Pirates are playing a beefed-up schedule that includes a number of Class AAA teams such as Ooltewah.
"It's still baseball. When they throw it we have to hit it, and when they hit it we have to catch it," he said.
The tournament is scheduled to continue today and finish Saturday night, weather permitting.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...