Matt Pippin, leadoff hitter for the Cherokees, lifted a long ball over the left-field fence to start the game ... but after that it was all Houchin and the Mustangs.
Walker Valley started slowly on offense, but scored two runs in the top of the fourth inning to take the lead. The Mustangs added a big five-spot in the top of the seventh for plenty of breathing room.
Houchin really didn’t need the breathing room as he dismissed McMinn County’s batsmen on only four additional hits. He registered nine strikeouts and only two walks in the game.
Walker Valley also welcomed a newcomer to the lineup in outfielder Cody Clanton. Clanton, who got a timely hit in the seventh inning to increase the Mustangs’ lead to 3-1, regained his eligibility Monday.
“He’s a good player, a good leader, and he got a big hit for us,” said Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin. “He’s also been a big help in the dugout all season, although he was not eligible to play.”
Shamblin was pleased with the way his team hit the baseball, pounding out 10 hits in the game. “We couldn’t find the real estate early, but then we began to hit the ball to open spots,” the Mustangs’ coach said.
Shamblin and McMinn County coach Jason Howard agreed there are several teams battling for third place in the District 5-AAA standings. With the win, the Mustangs are now 5-4 in the district while the Cherokees fell to 4-5. McMinn County could even up that score today with a 7 p.m. game at Walker Valley.
Houchin, a junior, didn’t let the early home run disturb his focus. He quickly settled down and faced little difficulty the rest of the way. He got out of the first inning on a fly ball to left and two strikeouts. He then allowed a lone single in the second and escape the third with a pickoff and inning-ending strikeout.
McMinn County never sent more than four batters to the plate in any of the final four frames.
The Mustangs trailed through three innings, but then jumped on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth. Chris Caffrey beat out a grounder for a single and later scored on a single from Caleb Longley to tie the game. Walker Valley took the lead at 2-1 on a routine grounder to short that was thrown in the dirt at first for an error.
The game progressed quickly to the top of the seventh, when the Mustangs galloped farther in front.
Colton Ward led off with a double and Clanton made his presence known with an RBI-single to center. Bobby Towne and Dustin Stowers had back-to-back singles for another run, Caffrey had a solid hit for a double and two runs, and the Mustangs’ fifth run got to the plate on a throw to second after a strikeout.
With a six-run lead, Houchin breezed through the bottom of the seventh on a strikeout, a fly ball to center and a groundout to the shortstop.
Walker Valley’s 10 hits were spread throughout the lineup, with eight players in the final tally. Stowers and Towne had two hits apiece, while Ward and Caffrey had doubles. The other hits came from Logan Longwith, Brandon Zajac, Caleb Longley and Clanton.
Pippin had the biggest hit for the Cherokees with his home run, and Beckham Smith added a double.
Coach Howard was disappointed with the loss, but hopes his Cherokees can bounce back today. “I like it that we play back-to-back games in this district,” he said.
“Josh (Howard) pitched well,” coach Howard added,” but we made a couple mistakes that were costly.”
MUSTANGS 7, CHEROKEES 1
Walker Valley 000 200 5 — 7 10 1
McMinn County 100 000 0 — 1 5 2
Records: Walker Valley 11-10-1, 5-4 in District 5-AAA; McMinn County 8-12, 4-5.