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Warren County defeats Owls, 4-3
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Winning an extra-inning game when the stakes are highest means somebody will emerge as a hero. The Warren County High School baseball team had plenty of heroes Monday night in Ooltewah.
Senior pitchers Logan McCormack and Micah McColloch combined to pitch nine solid innings, Nick Grandey made a base-running disaster pay big dividends and sophomore Logan Underhill came up with the game-winning hit as the Pioneers defeated the Owls 4-3 to advance to the regional finals for the first time since 1998.
Warren County (21-17) got big plays from its entire lineup as the Pioneers upset the District 5-AAA champions and earned the right to hold the regional finals at Patrick Ramsey Field tonight against Walker Valley.
Coach Adam Childs was aware of the contributions made by numerous players after the game as he praised his team.
“I can’t single out anybody after this game,” said Childs. “Everybody had a hand in helping us win. It was a true team effort.”
The Pioneers needed nine innings to pick up arguably the program’s biggest win since 1992, when Warren County claimed the state championship.
It wasn’t until Underhill scored Grandey with a single in the ninth and made the game-winning out on a diving stop in the bottom of the ninth the Pioneers could start their celebration in the middle of their opponent’s field.
Getting Grandey into scoring position was an adventure in itself.
The senior second baseman reached base in the top of the ninth on an error, giving the Pioneers a glimmer of hope with one out.
Grandey took a big lead at first, drawing the eye of the Owls left-handed pitcher Jackson McClain. Grandey never hid his intention of stealing second, taking off well before McClain even made his pitch.
McClain stepped toward first, looking to pick off Grandey but he was already halfway to second base. By the time the rushed throw arrived at second base, Grandey had started his slide. The ball ended up in left field and Grandey bounced off second and rushed to third to put the potential winning run 90 feet away.
Underhill still needed to deliver the big hit and the sophomore worked hard to get the pitch he wanted. After falling behind 0-2 and fouling off three pitches, Underhill ripped a shot into left field that fell in front of the diving Ooltewah left fielder.
The Pioneers threatened to add more runs when Collin Hutchins was hit with a pitch and Daulton Foster was intentionally walked, but Austin Green struck out swinging with the bases loaded to end the rally.
McColloch stepped to the mound in the ninth knowing the Pioneers were three outs away from making history. McColloch got the first two batters to ground to Grandey for outs, then looked to have gotten the final out when a bouncing ball made its way to Underhill at shortstop.
Underhill fielded cleanly and fired to first, but the umpire called the runner safe as Lee Carden had to come off the bag by an inch to make the catch.
The close call didn’t seem to phase the Pioneers. The next batter hit a one-hopper into the hole at shortstop, but Underhill dove to make the stop. From his knees, Underhill threw to Grandey for the final out as the Pioneers exploded from the dugout to celebrate.
Warren County never trailed in the nine-inning thriller. The Pioneers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first and never relinquished the lead.
Underhill began the game with a single, then would score the team’s first run when he slid in safely at home after Garrison Holmes hit a ground ball to first base.
Green would make it 2-0 with a two-out RBI single that scored Park Hilliard, who entered to run for Holmes.
Foster made it 3-0 in the top of the third when he blasted a long single off the left-field wall, bringing in Underhill.
Ooltewah didn’t have a hit until the third inning off McCormack, who again earned the start in the most pressure-packed game for Warren County this season. McCormack’s last start was in game three of the best-of-three series against Coffee County in the District 6-AAA tournament.
McCormack gave up two runs with two outs in the third on RBI singles as the Owls closed the gap to 3-2. Green got McCormack out of the inning by snaring a hard-hit line drive at third base for the final out.
McCormack worked out of another jam in the fourth. With two Owls in scoring position with two outs, McCormack forced a lazy fly ball to Grandey at second base.
The Pioneers had a chance to build their lead in the top of the sixth after Foster and Green reached scoring position with one out, but back-to-back strikeouts ended the hopes of another run crossing home.
Ooltewah finally forced the tie in the bottom of the sixth. After a strikeout to begin the inning, McCormack surrendered a single. After a passed ball put the Owl runner on second, a ground ball was hit into the hole at second base.
Grandey made a diving attempt to stop the ball, but it hit off the senior’s glove and rolled into right field. The ball went far enough away that the Owl runner scored from second to knot the game at three.
McCormack got out of the inning and ended his night with a no decision after pitching six innings and allowing three runs on five hits while striking out four.
Holmes nearly ended the game in seven when he drilled a shot to the shortstop with two runners on in the seventh, but the grounder was picked up and thrown to first for the final out.
McColloch pitched out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh. With two runners on and two outs, Alex Hillis made a running catch on a line drive to right field to send the game into extra innings.
The Pioneers finally ended the game in the ninth. Grandey’s big base running, along with Underhill’s third hit of the game, proved to be the difference.
Underhill finished with half of his team’s six hits. Holmes, Green and Foster had one hit each.
McColloch earned the victory by pitching three innings and allowing no runs. McColloch gave up four hits and walked one.
The Pioneers will play again tonight at home for the regional championship against Walker Valley. The game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.