Over the years, Campbell County High School’s baseball program has never been competitive enough to develop a rivalry.
That may have changed, however, after Monday night’s summer league tournament opener at Strang Field in Oak Ridge.
The Cougars took a 2-0 lead after three innings against Hardin Valley, fell behind 5-2 in the sixth, then had a runner on first base and a potential winning run at the plate in the top of the seventh. The Hawks hung on for a 5-4 victory in yet another hotly contested game between the two District 3-AAA teams.
“Every game we have with them is a war,” said Cougars coach Brad Collette.
“We battled. It’s just another one-run game that we’ve got to learn how to win.”
Campbell County swept Hardin Valley in a pair of tight games during the regular season before being squeezed out of the district tournament with a three-run opening game loss to the Hawks. Hardin Valley also defeated the Cougars, 5-3, during the summer league regular season.
“We’re pretty evenly matched with them,” said Collette.
“We both do a lot of bunting, a lot of running and trying to take extra bases. It’s good for us to have competitive games. That’s what we wanted our summer league to be about.”
Andrew Dykes broke a scoreless tie by stealing home in the top of the second inning. Justin Willoughby put Campbell County up 2-0 when he drove in his brother Cody with a double in the top of the third.
The Hawks got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third and tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth.
The Cougars might have taken the lead again in the top of the sixth inning but left Billy Tindle stranded at third base.
Chase Kirk drove in the go-ahead run for Hardin Valley with a base hit in the bottom of the sixth.
Big Donnie Huddleston pitched most of the game for Campbell County before being relieved by Dykes with one out in the bottom of the sixth. The Hawks scored two more runs to take a 5-2 lead to the seventh inning.
Campbell County had an opportunity to regain the lead in the top of the seventh but couldn’t get all its base runners home. Chris Hutson survived a violent collision with Hardin Valley’s pitcher while stealing home to get the Cougars within 5-3. Justin Willoughby drove in another run with a triple but was thrown out at the plate while trying to complete a round-tripper.
Collette, who was coaching third base at the time, blamed himself for being a little too aggressive with his base runners and not playing it safe,
“I put this one on me,” said Collette.
“We had a runner at third and could’ve tied the game up if I hadn’t made that mistake.”
The Cougars got one more runner on base (first) and had a batter at the plate when the final out was made.
Campbell County dropped into the loser’s bracket to face Lenoir City’s B-team on Tuesday. If the Cougars can play their way back into the winner’s bracket and get to the championship game, they will qualify for a World Series-type tournament in Virginia.