Ooltewah's offense was both opportunistic and capitalistic in Saturday's winners-bracket game against Walker Valley in the District 5-AAA high school softball tournament at Soddy-Daisy. Lady Owls pitcher Taylor Baird was closer to unrealistic.
The combination led to Ooltewah winning 4-0 and advancing to Monday's winners-bracket final against top-seeded Soddy-Daisy (37-4) at 7 p.m.
The Lady Trojans' Kelsey Nunley took a perfect game into the seventh inning against Rhea County but hit the first batter of the inning. Thanks to two hits, including a home runs, and two RBIs each by Haley Reynolds and Morgan Bailey, they were able to hold on and win 5-3.
A controversial call during Kelsey Chernak's at-bat with one out in the third inning set the Lady Owls' offense in motion. She hit a dribbler up the third-base line, but Chernak remained in the batter's box as though she was sure she had fouled the ball off her foot or leg.
However, neither umpire signaled foul. The ball was picked up and thrown to first, but it sailed high and ended up in foul territory in right field, allowing a perplexed Chernak, who did have two hits in the game, time to run to first base safely.
"Honestly, I thought it hit her, too," Ooltewah coach Norma Nelson said. "But you've got to run in that situation. That ended up opening the door, so I said, 'Let's go at it.'"
Allie Jones and Katelyn Bowen, who was 2-for-2, followed with line-drive singles off losing pitcher Sidney Hooper, with Bowen's scoring Chernak. Abby Daniels added a sacrifice fly in the three-run inning, which also included a fielding error and a wild pitch. Another fielding error and wild pitch contributed to the run in the fifth for Ooltewah (27-9).
"They made some mistakes and we capitalized on them," Nelson said. "We kind of made some things happen. I thought we came ready to play. We had that two-, three-run lead, but they had come back on us before. They have some good hitters and Sidney's a good pitcher."
Baird prevented any comeback by retiring the last 12 to cap her three-hitter that included eight strikeouts and one walk.
Lady Mustangs coach Lauren Limburg credited Baird's location in particular. She also said she thought Chernak struck herself with the ball, too.
"We can't use that as an excuse," Limburg said. "We've got to take care of business. Not just one play cost us. It was a culmination of things. Ooltewah has a great team. She pitched a great game. Now we've got to find something within ourselves when we come back on Monday."
Hooper had a first-inning double and Leslie Still doubled leading off the fourth. She was the only player to get as far as third for Walker Valley (22-9), which plays McMinn County at 5 on Monday.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.