After his first-ever varsity relief appearance in the March 11 opener went awry, allowing East Hamilton to rally from a 6-1 deficit to tie the game, Hamilton got a second crack at the top-seeded Hurricanes in the winner’s bracket final of the District 5-AAA Tournament at A.C. “Bud” Ball Field in Ooltewah.
“I was nervous the first time I faced them (March 11), and a little nervous tonight before the game, but once I got out there I settled down,” Hamilton said after going six strong innings to lead the Bears to an 8-4 victory and a spot in Wednesday evening’s district championship game. He struck out eight, walked two and scattered five hits, while giving up just two earned runs to improve to 6-2 on the bump this season.
“He was just a regular position player for us when he got here. I saw him throwing one day and felt like he could make a good pitcher, so we starting working with him,” explained Coach Adams, who directed his first Bear squad to the TSSAA substate back in 2008, but hasn’t been able to get them past of the district tournament level since.
“It feels great,” proclaimed Adams about returning to region play. “Our first goal this season was to get out of the district, and now we’ve accomplished that.”
With its 20th win of the season, second-seeded Bradley (20-11) advances to the district title game, where the Bears will face the loser’s bracket survivor. After stunning the host Ooltewah squad 7-0 Sunday, sixth-seeded Walker Valley (11-19) will take on No. 3 seed Soddy-Daisy (18-15), which needed 11 innings to get past Cleveland 7-6 Sunday. The winner will take on East Hamilton (22-14) Tuesday evening with the second region berth on the line in the loser’s bracket final.
In a showdown of the teams that tied for the regular season title with 9-3 records, East Hamilton, which got the top seed due to a tiebreaker, got on the scoreboard first late Sunday evening with a solo run in the bottom of the second inning. Matty Henshaw drew a walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored when Matt Watters laced a two-out single to right.
Playing its third game in as many days, Bradley left five runners on base in its first three at bats before knocking the goose egg off the board in the top of the fourth.
Opening the frame with a walk, senior Jordan Timmons, who had doubled in his previous trip to the plate, got the rally started. Junior Tanner Cox was then hit by a pitch and senior Chandler Duggan was safe on a bunt after the Hurricanes failed to cover first base on the play.
Sophomore Tyler Carpenter than came on as a pinch hitter and worked the Hurricane starter for a bases-loaded walk to plate the first run. Senior Baylor Terrell hit a hot shot that the East Hamilton shortstop booted to bring both Cox and Duggan in to score for a 3-1 Bears lead.
Bradley tacked on another run in the top of the sixth when senior Logan Blackwell led off with a hit, moved to second when Timmons’ bunt hugged the third base line for a single, and then advanced on a pair of wild pitches by the Hurricane reliever.
After Hamilton struck out the first two batters of the bottom of the fifth, East Hamilton was able to cut the difference in half with a single run when Hunter Parker singled, stole second, moved over on a passed ball and scored on an infield hit by Matt Milita.
The Bears got that run back in their next at bat when senior Caleb Pace led off the top of the sixth by “taking one for the team” on his hip pocket. After a Terrell single, senior Caleb Barnes laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the Hurricane pitcher was wide with his throw to first, allowing Pace to score from second base.
Playing its first season of Class AAA ball, East Hamilton came right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame when Hunter Owen struck out but reached first when the ball got away on his third strike. Nick Fahler followed with a single and a Bear fielding miscue allowed the first run to score and Owen to move to third. He came in on a groundout by Watters.
With the difference trimmed to a single run, Bradley got some breathing run in the top of the seventh with a three-run rally. Timmons started the frame off with his third hit of the night before Carpenter dropped down a bunt that was mishandled allowing to reach safely.
Junior Austin Calfee loaded the bases by beating out a bunt of his own before senior Cal Pickel got plunked for an RBI. After Carpenter scored on a wild pitch, Barnes drove in the final run with a two-out infield single.
With the region berth within grasp and Hamilton tiring, Coach Adams called on ace Ty King for an inning of work, and the lanky junior set the Hurricanes down in order in the bottom of the seventh to lock up the win.
“When he’s on, Hamilton is tough. He did a great job tonight. He never lost his composure. When something would go wrong, he’d reset and refocus,” praised Coach Adams. “I know he wanted to finish, but I felt like a fresh arm would keep East Hamilton off balance and King did a great job of finishing it out.”
“We left a lot of chips on the table (11 runners left on base), but we did what we needed to do to win,” he added. “We didn’t let them (EH) string any hits together.”
“I wanted to go back out and finish it. I felt good, but we won and that’s the most important thing,” remarked Hamilton, who picked up his second pitching victory in as many days. “It was special that it (the win) came against them (EH). It made it extra special. I feel like I redeemed myself for the game to start the season.”
“Chandler was hitting his spots and had good location,” related Timmons, the Bear catcher. “This was the biggest game of the season for him and he did a great job. Getting a chance to play for the district title and already having a region berth feels great.”
Barnes and Terrell both went 2-for-4 at the plate, plus each drew a walk and reached on an error in the contest.
Bradley Central 000 311 3 — 8 10 1
East Hamilton 010 012 0 — 4 5 3
WP: Chandler Hamilton (6-2) 6 IP, 8 K’s, 2 BB, 5 hits, 2 ER. LP: Hunter Smith 3.1 IP, 4 K’s, 5 BB, 1 HBP, 3 hits, 1 ER. 2B: Jordan Timmons (BC); RBI: Tyler Carpenter, Cal Pickel, Caleb Barnes (BC); Matt Watters 2, Matt Milita (EH). Highlights: Jordan Timmons 3-3, 2B, BB; Jacob Barnes 2-4, BB, RE, RBI; Baylor Terrell 2-4, BB, RE; Chandler Duggan 1-2, BB, run; Tanner Cox BB, 2 runs (BC); Records: Bradley Central 20-11; East Hamilton 22-14.