Ooltewah waited out the rain and played through the fog in its Region 3-AAA baseball game Monday.
The Owls, though, could not play through a series of untimely miscues -- mental and physical -- and paid the season-ending price in a nine-inning, 4-3 loss to visiting Warren County, the District 6-AAA runner-up.
The Pioneers (21-17) will host Walker Valley for the region championship on Wednesday. Unlike Monday's game, both teams Wednesday will advance to Friday's sectionals, the winner staying at home and the loser traveling with state championship berths on the line.
"I'm disappointed with the way we played. We left a small village on base. We were not mentally tough at key moments," said Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox, whose club finished the year with a 24-11 record and the District 5-AAA championship.
The Owls finished with a bitter taste after getting into the postseason for the first time since 2009 when they lost to Cleveland in the region final. Their last sectional and state tournament trips were in 2006.
Monday, the Owls stranded 13 baserunners and made four official errors. The first of those, on what would have been a bang-bang play at the plate in the first inning, allowed Warren County to score its first run and eventually another for a 2-0 lead before Ooltewah got a chance to swing.
"Offensively, they're very challenged," said Hitchcox, whose club out-hit the Pioneers 10-5. "Of those five hits, they had one guy with three. We made mental mistakes.
"We put them in position [to score] with walks and errors, and one thing our guys haven't done much this year is beat themselves. We didn't make good decisions, and when you don't after you've reached this level, you're not going to advance."
Hitchcox knew the Owls had some holes.
"We had some young guys who'd gotten better, but our pitching had been good enough to hide those deficiencies," he said.
The Owls also botched a pickoff play. They booted two routine grounders and failed at least once to get down a crucial bunt. And of the runners they left on base, seven were in scoring position, including at least one at third with one out.
While they had a decent offensive showing, there were too few hits in key situations.
"I don't know if you'd call it tight so much as indecisive, but there was nothing that happened that they weren't prepared for 100 percent. We just didn't execute," Hitchcox said.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...
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