Ooltewah and Central used their diamond matchup in the Trojan Classic on Saturday as a tune up for critical district home-and-home series on Monday and Tuesday.
But the Owls left Central High’s baseball field in a slightly better mindset than the Purple Pounders about the week ahead.
Ooltewah backed a complete game by sophomore C.J. Harden with a 12-hit attack and knocked off Central, 10-4.
A couple hours after the Owls and Purple Pounders finished, two highly touted West Tennessee neighbors – with a combined 47-13 record – tangled at Soddy-Daisy’s Tom Higgins Field in the championship showdown.
Houston’s Jack Rude threw a five-hit shutout at rival Collierville, Jared Schmidt hit a home run and the Mustangs edged the Dragons, 2-0, to capture the title in impressive fashion.
The Class AAA schools, located near Memphis, are separated by 4.8 miles and nine minutes in drive time and they compete in District 15-AAA. Yet, they traveled 300-plus miles to decide the champion.
Collierville had won the last two classic titles in 2011 and 2012. No champion was crowned in 2013 due to inclement weather wrecking the schedule.
“C.J. has stepped up for us,” Owls coach Brian Hitchcox said. “He’s had his up-and-down moments, but so has the whole team. We are figuring out better ways to use C.J. “
Clearly, numerous coaches were using the three-day tournament to experiment with their lineups and working with the pitching rotation around district games before and after the classic.
“We saw what a few of our younger pitchers can do and that’s always good,” Hitchcox said. “We tried some younger guys at different spots and worked different combinations of outfielders and infielders we may use during the stretch run.”
The Owls (14-11) host district-leading Bradley Central on Monday and then travel to Cleveland for the second game on Tuesday. Both games are slated for 7 p.m.
Bradley Central is atop the district standings with an 8-2 league record. Soddy-Daisy and East Hamilton are at 7-3 while the Owls at 6-4. Ooltewah has to sweep the Bears to have any chance to move up the standings and get a higher seed for the district tournament that starts on April 30 at Ooltewah.
“Even at this late stage of the season we’re still trying to piece things together and find our way,” Hitchcox said. “We’re running out of time.”
Central (13-14), which dropped a 17-5 decision to Houston in six innings prior to playing Ooltewah, leads the District 6-AA regular-season race with a 9-1 mark and the Hixson series will wrap up the Pounders’ league slate.
Hixson is 6-1 in the district and has two-game series with Central and Brainerd to play before the tournament.
“Monday and Tuesday will probably determine the top two spots in our standings and who gets the byes in the tournament,” Pounders coach Glen Carter said. “Hopefully, my guys were looking forward to (the Hixson series) and maybe that’s why we played so bad today.”
Carter could only guess what frame of mind his players will be in Monday after the two thrashings they endured on Saturday.
“I won’t know until they show up here Monday to play Hixson,” he said. “They’re teenage boys. They could wash it in the wind and be done with it or dwell on it because they lost to Ooltewah and it’s a neighborhood game.”
Ooltewah jumped on Central starter Matt Ford for two first-inning runs on a RBI single by Brody Binder and a run-scoring groundout by Zack McGill.
In the Owls’ three-run second, Hunter Conrad singled to left and went to second when Central’s left fielder misplayed the ball for an error. Tyler Robertson’s sacrifice bunt advanced Conrad to third and he scored on David Lopez’s hit to left.
Logan Fugate drew a walk and back-to-back hits by Hayden Bradley and Binder loaded the bases. Fugate scored on Caleb Collins’ sacrifice fly.
Central’s Dakota Fowler tripled in the first and scored on Ty Lowe’s single to left in the first inning. The Pounders got a second run off Harden hit Gabe Fomby, stole second and scored on Ford’s hit to center.
“We’ve been on spring break and haven’t played since last Friday,” Carter said, “and we’re trying to get our timing back. That didn’t quite work out the way we wanted because our timing is still off. We didn’t hit well in this tournament, especially today.”
The Owls’ Mitch Duncan singled to start the fifth and eventually scored from third on a wild pitch, pushing the lead to 6-2.
Ooltewah iced it with four sixth-inning runs off Ford and reliever Nathan Clark.
Fugate’s single chased Ford. Clark came on and Fugate stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Bradley’s double. Binder walked and after a groundout McGill doubled in two runs. Mitch Duncan singled and Jackson Malcolm, running for McGill, later scored on a wild pitch to give Ooltewah a 10-2 cushion.
Harden, who sailed through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, ran into one-our trouble in the Pounders’ seventh.
Drew McDaniel walked and scored on Lowe’s double. After Fomby struck out Ford flipped a single into left and Lowe raced home with the game’s final run.
“That’s my first complete game of the year,” said Harden, who also is used as a reliever. “It doesn’t matter if I start or relieve. I just want to pitch.”
Four Owls – Fugate, Bradley, Binder and Duncan – accounted for eight of the team’s 12 hits. Three of the seven batters that drew walks eventually scored.
“In tournaments, you run out of pitching because you have to save guys from the district games,” Carter said. “We had guys that hadn’t thrown more than once or twice the whole year and Ooltewah swings the bats good and they scored when they needed to.”
The classic title game pitted the two best teams in the field.
Houston’s Rude, a hard-throwing right-hander, did not allow a runner past first until the fourth when Collierville’s Cody Young singled and stole second. Parker Phillips followed with a hit, pushing Young to third. Phillips then stole second.
But Rude struck out Joey Reed and retired Ayrton Schafer on an infield grounder.
In the sixth, the ninth-ranked Dragons’ doubled to deep center.
Rude didn’t crack.
Instead, Rude struck out Kyle Dailey, Peyton Coleman and Brandon Montgomery to end the inning. The 6-foot-3-inch, 185-pound junior, retired five of the last six. Only Alex Hicks reached base with a single, but he was the middle man in a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Houston (23-6) took a 1-0 lead in the second when Schmidt, a junior third baseman, led off with a towering homer to left-center. In the third, senior shortstop Wes Roberson walked, stole second and came home on Schafer’s double to left, a hit that chased Dailey from the mound.
Bradley Crain came on in relief and got the final out to end the inning.
Crain slammed the door on Houston with 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. He struck out five and walked two.
Schafer was the only Mustangs player with two hits.
Hicks went 2-for-3 for the Dragons (24-7).
Ooltewah 230 014 0 – 10 12 2
Central 101 000 2 – 4 8 1
Harden and Binder; Ford, Clark (6), Kaylor (7) and Mowery, Lowe (6).
Houston 011 000 0 – 2 4 0
Collierville 000 000 0 – 0 5 0
Rude and Sala; Dailey, Crain (3) and Young.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)