There are a lot of advantages for teams playing in weekend baseball tournaments, one of which is giving coaches a chance to see what younger players can do in pressure situations.
Such was the case at Central's Gene Lively Stadium on Saturday in the Wildcat Classic where Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox put freshman southpaw Caleb Collins on the mound for their game against Signal Mountain.
Collins had been sick earlier in the week and didn't see his first action until Saturday, but he more than made up for lost time as he was the winning pitcher with a four-hitter and he was also the offensive hero with three hits and six runs batted in as the Owls prevailed by a 13-3 final in five innings.
Collins was the number eight man in Ooltewah's lineup, but he earned his stripes with an RBI-single in the second, a sacrifice fly in the third while stroking a pair of two-run singles in the fourth and fifth innings.
He was more than enough to help his team improve to 4-1 and later to 5-1 with an 8-1 win over Central.
"We did some good things out there today, but we got a chance to see what some of our younger guys can do. Caleb did a good job of throwing strikes and putting the ball in play, which gave our guys on defense a chance to make the plays behind him," said Hitchcox between games.
"It was good to see these guys bounce back after getting hammered by Tullahoma last night, but we had a couple of big hits with two outs and we were able to answer when Signal Mountain scored their three runs.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but when you get good pitching, play good defense and get timely hitting, your chances of winning go up greatly," the coach added.
Ooltewah scored single runs in each of the first two innings before Signal Mountain took the lead with three runs in the top of the third. That didn't last long as the Owls answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Two runs in the fourth extended the lead to 7-3 while a six-run fifth was the final nail, the game ending on a balk by the Signal Mountain reliever.
Bryson Owen led off Ooltewah's half of the first with a single and scored on a double by Brody Binder.
Collins got his first RBI with a single in the second while the Owls collected four singles in their three-run third.
Jared Davenport drove in the first with a single while Collins' fly to right plated the second. Then a single to left by David Lopez accounted for the final run.
Collins had a two-out, two-run single in the fourth and added another two-run single in the fifth when the Owls finished the job.
Mike Ruebusch had a run-scoring double while Drew Williams had a two-run single. An error and a hit batter set the stage for Collins final hit while Davenport scored the deciding run with a balk.
"We knew the winning run was standing at third and I asked our pitcher to step off the rubber to give our defense a chance to regroup. The problem was he stepped off with the wrong foot," said Signal Mountain coach Bumper Reese following the game.
"It's hard for a team like us to play three or four games on the weekend when we have district games on Monday and Tuesday, but we gave them way too many free passes. We were in it for a while, but this was the second day in a row where one bad inning cost us.
"We had several opportunities, but hit the ball right at them. I'm not a bit happy that we just got run-ruled, but Ooltewah has a fine team and they'll make you pay for your mistakes," Reese added.
Senior Madison Byrd was the starter for the Eagles and he was saddled with the loss after allowing seven runs on nine hits in four innings. His six walks certainly didn't help his cause while he also had a strikeout.
Byrd's two-run single with two outs in the third was the big blow for Signal Mountain.
While Collins was the only player for either team with three hits, teammates Binder and Williams had two apiece for the Owls.
Byrd had the big blow for the Eagles while Charlie Tregasar, Kaleb Menzel and Patrick Bruce all had one hit apiece.
OOLTEWAH IMPROVED to 5-1 with the 8-1 win over Central.
Logan Fugate went the distance and finished with a five-hitter that included six strikeouts and no walks. The Central run was unearned.
Hayden Bradley had three hits and three runs batted in while Collins drove in two more runs without getting a hit.
THE OWLS HAD A SCARE on Friday when pitcher Kevin Dupree had to leave the game after hearing his shoulder pop after delivering a pitch. He was checked out by the Ooltewah trainer, who executed several quick tests.
It doesn't appear to be serious, but Dupree will have an MRI on Monday just to be sure.
SUNDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP game is set for 2 p.m. at Hixson with Gwinnett County set to battle Tullahoma. Both were 4-0 in their respectively pools.
Signal Mountain 003 00 -- 3 4 3
Ooltewah 113 26 -- 13 12 0
Byrd, Nagle (6) and Feemster; Collins, Duncan (5) and Ruebusch.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)