There was even more surprise when the junior lefty took the hill on just two days’ rest Tuesday evening in the district championship game against top-seeded Soddy-Daisy.
Both proved to be the right decision as the Mustangs won both battles, including a 6-2 victory over the Trojans to capture their first class AAA district title.
“We (the Mustang coaches) talked about it and Michael texted me the night before and said he felt good and wanted the ball,” Walker Valley head coach Joe Shamblin explained. “When a guy that you have confidence in tells you he wants the ball, you give it to him,” he said.
“He is without a doubt our tournament MVP,” Shamblin proclaimed after Houchin allowed just three earned run in 12 innings of work for the two games. He struck out four and gave out just three free passes, while scattering eight hits.
“I only threw 67 pitches Saturday and felt fine yesterday (Monday) so I wanted the ball. I knew I could win,” proclaimed a confident Houchin after notching his fifth victory against just two defeats this year. “At the beginning of the season I never thought I’d have this kind of opportunity, but I’ve improved throughout the year.”
The first to admit he’s not an overpowering pitcher with a big fastball, Houchin explained his success as being able to “keep the batters off stride.”
“I struggled some in the first inning (giving up three hits and two runs) but coach (Dustin) McPherson told me something to adjust and I did,” he added. “I was able to mix my pitches well and keep the ball down.”
After giving up three hits and a pair of runs in the opening inning, Houchin set down 15 batters in a row. He did surrender a hit in the sixth inning and one in the seventh, but neither amounted to anything.
“He started a little rough but he kept his composure,” coach Shamblin stated. “He’s the type of guy that you can’t tell by looking at him if he’s up by 10 runs or behind by 10.”
After throwing 27 pitches in the opening inning, Houchin needed just 63 more to finish out the game. His only two strikeouts came in the seventh inning before shortstop Logan Longwith snagged a hard line drive just before it could hit the ground for the game’s final out.
The victory not only gives the Mustangs their first district title in seven years (class AA then), it gives them the opportunity to host a Region 3-AAA opening round game Monday. Walker Valley will take on the loser of Thursday night’s District 6-AAA title game between Coffee County and Cookeville.
Having won 13 of their last 16 games, coach Shamblin had stated before the district tournament that he felt his team was “peaking at the right time.” Walker Valley did the same thing in 2010, making a surprising run through the 5-AAA tournament to finish as the runner-up to Soddy-Daisy and advance to the region playoffs.
After falling into a 2-0 hole in the opening inning, the Mustangs exploded for five runs in the third inning to charge into the lead.
Longwith started the rally with a single before Bobby Towne ripped a double into the right-center field gap. Chris Caffrey drew a one-out walk to load the bases before Brandon Zajac lifted a sacrifice fly to plate Longwith.
Cody Suttles then worked Soddy starter Jake Leffew for a two-out walk to reload the sacks before sophomore Caleb Longley blasted a two-out double into left-center field to bring in Towne and Caffrey.
Senior Colton Ward followed with a solid single up the middle to bring in Suttles and moved Longley to third, from where he scored the final run of the rally on a wild pitch.
Walker Valley added another run in the top of the fourth when Longwith reached on an error and came around later in the inning on a two-out single by Zajac.
Zajac and Longley led the eight-hit Mustang attack with two hits apiece, while Caffrey was on base three times with a walk, a fielder’s choice and he was hit by a pitch.
Soddy-Daisy’s first-inning runs came on a pair of two-out singles by Damo DeMatteo and Dalton Rogers.
MUSTANGS 6, TROJANS 2
Walker Valley 005 100 0 — 6 8 1
Soddy-Daisy 200 000 0 — 2 5 2
WP: Michael Houchin (5-2) 7 IP, 2 Ks, 2 HBP, 5 H, 2 ER. LP: Jake Leffew 3.1 IP, 1 K, 3 BB, 5 H, 5 ER. 2B: Bobby Towne, Caleb Longley (WV). RBIs: Longley 2, Brandon Zajac 2, Colton Ward (WV); Damo DeMatteo, Dalton Rogers (SD). Records: Walker Valley 21-12; Soddy-Daisy 23-12.