OOLTEWAH – The balls McMinn County batters were hitting to Ooltewah fielders Tuesday were finding gaps Wednesday.
Gavin Peterson and Will Grimmett cracked two hits each, leading a seven-hit evening that drove the Cherokees to a 3-1 win at Ooltewah High School and a split of the season-opening District 5-AAA series.
“It wasn't much different from yesterday, except the hard-hit balls that went to people last night were falling tonight,” said Tribe Coach Matt Ray. “We put the ball in play and made things happen.”
McMinn's pitching was sharp for the second straight day, this time with enough offense to take advantage of it and win. Hayden Frank, a sophomore who recently committed to Lipscomb, held the Owls to just one hit in his 5 1/3-inning start. Will Grimmett notched the save in the last 1 2/3 innings, striking out three and giving up no hits.
Despite the Cherokees (1-1, 1-1 District 5-AAA) committing four errors, Frank and Grimmett allowed only one Ooltewah run, which came in the fifth inning off one of McMinn errors.
“We misplayed a couple of balls, but what stood out to me was our pitchers getting back on the mound and holding us right there, not letting the snowball effect get us,” Ray said. “They stopped the bleeding and got the job done for us.”
Gavin Peterson led off the game with a single and scored McMinn's first run later in the first inning on a one-out Will Harris hit to right field.
The Tribe tacked on two more runs in the top of the fifth, with Emery Peterson and Grimmett reaching base on an intentional walk and double, respectively. Ooltewah's shortstop then flubbed Harris' grounder with Peterson and Grimmett in scoring position, the error allowing both runners to cross.
The Owls (1-1, 1-1) had their best threat at a rally in the bottom of the sixth when it loaded the bases with one out with the help of three walks, but Grimmett struck out two straight batters to get McMinn out of the inning unscathed.
“I think it's good to understand that if you make plays, throw strikes and put the ball in play, you're in the game,” Ray said of the win. “It doesn't matter who you're playing.”
The Cherokees play again in the Hixson Wildcat Classic in Chattanooga this weekend, weather permitting. McMinn begins the tournament 3 p.m. Friday at Chattanooga Central High School against the hosting Purple Pounders, then remains there to play Mt. Juliet at 5:30.
The Tribe plays Saturday again at Chattanooga Central, 1:30 p.m. against Gwinnett and 4:30 p.m. against Signal Mountain. If McMinn makes it to the championship game, it will play it 1 p.m. Sunday at Hixson High School.