Ooltewah spotted visiting Walker Valley two runs on Tuesday.
Then starting pitcher Caleb Collins settled in and the Owls got defensive.
Ooltewah threw three runners out at home and picked another off third, Collins and reliever C.J. Harden shut the Mustangs down over the final five innings and the Owls walked away with an 8-2 victory that kept them in the District 5-AAA lead.
The Owls (10-4, 5-1) have sole possession of first place in the district standings while Soddy-Daisy, Bradley Central and East Hamilton all went into Tuesday play with two league losses.
In a six-game winning streak, the Owls have outscored their opponents by a combined 52-13.
“We struggled early in the year with our defense because we weren’t talking out there,” said catcher Brody Binder, who was in on all four stellar plays that choked off what could have been bigger innings for the Mustangs. “To play good defense everybody on the field has to talk, echo what each other is saying and what the coach is saying.
“Since we’ve been doing that our defense has gone crazy.”
It drove the Mustangs silly on the base paths.
Owls center-fielder Logan Fugate, the winning pitcher in Monday’s series opener 12-0 win at Walker Valley, threw a runner out at the plate and stranded a runner at second to end the first inning.
Shortstop Mitch Duncan threw a runner out at home and catcher Brody Binder nailed a runner at third in the second. Walker Valley had three base runners in the inning, yet scored only one run.
Walker Valley’s Brian Oliver laced a double to left-center in the fourth, but Fugate’s throw to Duncan and the relay home nailed a Mustangs runner at the plate to end that threat. Oliver was left in scoring position.
“That’s unusual for us,” Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin said. “They had to make great plays early and they did, but our base running had something to do with a couple of them.”
Equally important was the defensive gems helped calm Collins down.
“He scuffled a little bit early,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “They came out swinging and hit the ball hard. When the defense picked Caleb up he settled in and found a groove in the middle innings. We needed to make some plays to keep us in the game because they had a chance to score four or five runs. That could have been a different ballgame.”
John Simmons’ line-drive double down the left-field foul line in the first inning pushed Tucker Mendenhall across with the first run for Walker Valley (6-11, 2-6).
In the second, Dillian Church reached on an infield single and eventually scored from second on first baseman Zach McGill’s fielding error.
Little did the Mustangs know that would cap their scoring for the night.
“At first I didn’t do very well,” Collins said. “They were hitting balls in the holes and I just had to keep battling. Later in the game my pitches started coming to me and I felt better.
Collins yielded two base runners in the fourth and fifth innings, but escaped further damage before giving way to Harden, who finished off the Mustangs with two scoreless innings of relief.
Collins threw 76 pitches – 34 in the first two innings – and 50 were for strikes.
Harden, a junior, gave up a two-out single in the sixth, but induced a groundout from Jake Broome to end the inning. Harden hit Bradley Smith with two out in the seventh and got Simmons on a game-ending fly ball to center.
“We like C.J. out of the bullpen because he’ll come right at you, get some groundballs and he’s fearless,” Hitchcox said. “That’s a good combination coming out of the pen in big games.”
Trailing the Mustangs 2-0, the Owls started chipping away at the deficit in their half of the second inning.
Designated hitter Jackson Malcolm doubled to center and scored on Kyle Kapherr’s hit to left field.
Binder walked and Collins helped his own cause with a single to left to start a three-run third. After a fielder’s choice wiped out Collins at second, Hayden Bradley laced a single up the middle to score Binder.
With two out McGill’s second hit of the game pushed Fugate – he reached on the fielder’s choice – across with the second run and Kapherr followed with his second single to score Bradley.
That gave the Owls a 4-2 advantage.
Ooltewah roughed up Mustangs starter Zach Wilcox for two more runs in the fourth. Collins was hit by a pitch and later scored on a wild pitch. Fugate, who singled to left, came home on Bradley’s second straight hit.
With one out in the fifth, London Elrod singled to left and scored when Duncan delivered a towering triple to left. Duncan scored when Binder followed with a double past third.
“We’re definitely swinging the bats better than we have all year,” Hitchcox said. “Our guys have a mentality to get on base for the next guy. We’ve been getting a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup, getting people on base and keeping innings alive, and we’re not striking out much.
“Any time you avoid the strikeout and put the ball in play, we see more pitches and that helps guys behind you. That’s helped us a lot.”
Bradley, Kapherr and McGill had two hits apiece. Bradley and Kapherr each had two RBIs.
Smith and Elijah Smith each had two hits for the Mustangs.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble so far with hard-hit balls not finding any real estate out there,” Shamblin said. “I keep telling the boys to keep hitting them and that will change. We haven’t peaked yet and the district tournament is about a month away. We want to be ready for the tournament the same way Soddy-Daisy did last year.”
Soddy-Daisy went into the 2013 tournament seeded seventh – or last – and wound up finishing first and reaching the Region 3-AAA semifinals.
Walker Valley 110 000 0 – 2 9 1
Ooltewah 013 220 x – 8 12 1
Wilcox, Goins (5), Swafford (6) and Oliver; Collins, Harden (6) and Binder.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)