The Mustangs finally took the diamond at Mike Turner Field on a sunny but cool Tuesday in front of a warmly dressed crowd against District 5-AAA foe McMinn County.
When all was said and done, starter Kamren Barnes and reliever Drew Lyles combined for 16 strikeouts and Walker Valley walked away with a 5-0 win over McMinn.
“McMinn is a much-improved team. It started out as a dogfight. We got a couple of runs in the third that helped us and calmed our nerves a little bit, and put a little pressure on them,” said Mustangs coach Joe Shamblin. “I think that kind of ended up being the nail. Now we’ve got to get back and do it again tomorrow.”
Walker Valley travels to Athens today at 4 p.m. to make up Monday’s rainout.
Walker Valley quelled a second inning attempt by the Cherokees to take an early lead. With two outs and a runner on third, Mustangs pitcher Kamren Burns got the strikeout to end the inning.
The Mustangs missed a chance of their own in the bottom half of the inning after Josh Poole doubled to right-center field to lead off the inning. Poole was replaced on the bag by Austin Scott, who stole third before the Cherokees closed out the frame with a strikeout.
Mustangs’ left fielder Drew Lyles broke the 0-0 deadlock in the bottom of the third with a double to deep center field that scored Bradley Smith and Caleb Longley.
After striking out the first two batters of the fourth inning, Barnes ran into some trouble, giving up a single and two walks. The junior hurler’s 68th pitch of the game loaded the bases for the Cherokees, but the 69th and final pitch for Barnes landed softly in the glove of right fielder Chase Prince to preserve the 2-0 lead.
Barnes ended his first start of the season with eight strikeouts in four innings of work. Lyles came on to start the fifth and also fanned eight Cherokees. Barnes struck out the side in the third and Lyles repeated the feat in the sixth.
“They did decent,” said the Mustangs coach. “We are trying to limit their pitch count a little bit. They worked from behind in the count too much today, but when you can get a shutout you get the shutout.”
Designated hitter Jake Ward put the Mustangs on top 3-0 in the lower portion of the fifth on a single that scored pinch runner Logan Melton.
Walker Valley added two more in the sixth after Elijah Haynie reached on a swinging bunt and later scored when Barnes was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. A one out fielder’s choice scored Smith to make it 5-0.
McMinn County had a final shot at breaking the shutout in its last at bat. The Cherokees loaded the bases with two walks and a single. But Lyles retaliated with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning and lock up the win for the Mustangs.
“We played good defense today. It’s obviously early in the season and usually the pitching is ahead of the hitting. We had six hits, but we need to hit it better. Pitching, we need to work ahead in the count a little more,” said Shamblin.
McMinn County 000 000 0 — 0 4 2
Walker Valley 002 012 x — 5 6 0
WP: Kamren Barnes (1-0); LP: Corbin Powers (0-1).
3B: Drew Lyles (WV); 2B: Josh Poole (WV). Other highlights: Lyles 3 RBIs (WV); Records: McMinn County 0-1, 0-1 district 5-AAA; Walker Valley 1-0, 1-0.