Making the plays when needed -- that's what made the difference for the Chattanooga State baseball team in its first two league games of the season Sunday.
Two days after they were supposed to open TCCAA play, the Tigers finally got on the field against visiting Cleveland State and pulled out 8-6 and 6-2 victories. The teams play a nine-inning game today at 1 p.m.
"Chattanooga State played really well," Cougars coach Mike Policastro said. "They got two-out hits -- two-strike two-out hits -- and they didn't make an error all day. And they took advantage of plays we did not make. Against a good team like this you've got to make plays.
"We had opportunities on offense, but their pitching stepped up. They deserved to win two games today, and we didn't."
Chattanooga State (16-4) outhit the visitors only 18-16 in the two games, but Cleveland State (8-6, 0-2) made three errors in the opener and another in the rematch, when they barely missed catching three extra-base hits that all turned into runs.
The Cougars led 1-0 and 3-2 in the first game, as Colby Harmon scored after each of his two early doubles. Even when the Tigers (16-4, 2-0) took a 5-3 lead in the fifth inning on a wild pitch and a Zach Lance single, the visitors did use a couple of walks, a wild pitch and a balk to get within 5-4.
Then came two at-bats that summarized Policastro's point.
In the bottom of the sixth, Cougars relief pitcher Tyler Kilgore got two quick outs before brushing Isaac Davenport with a pitch. Then Zach Zarzour lined a single to center field and Davenport took third on a bobble, Zarzour stole second and Jordan McDonald walked to load the bases. Tyler Roach poked a two-strike single through the left side for two runs and designated hitter Taylor Patterson ripped a full-count double to right center for an 8-4 advantage.
Patterson, the Tigers' closer, then took the mound in the seventh in a non-save situation because of his second RBI, and the Cougars made a closing surge. Derek Shugart led off with a single, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Michael Hargrove's double, and then Cody Commons and DeAndre Allen each singled to right field, making it 8-6, and Chase Edwards walked to fill the bags.
Patterson struck out the next three batters with almost exclusively an off-speed breaking ball.
"He's been lights-out. He hadn't give up an earned run," Tigers coach Greg Dennis said later. "He finally found his slider. That made a big difference. He was throwing almost all fastballs earlier, but at least he was throwing strikes."
Policastro called Patterson's bases-full performance "a big momentum-changer," and indeed the Tigers put together a four-run second inning in the second game and led 6-0 behind pitcher Colton Kinnamon before the Cougars scored two in the sixth. Dylan Massengill got the last five outs for Chattanooga State.
Lance began the second with a walk, and Matt Sorrow hit a double that center fielder Cody Commons nearly got to. Daniel Tucker rifled a shot past the first baseman that brought in two runs, and Davenport followed a Preston Yancey sacrifice bunt with an RBI groundout before Zarzour doubled down the left-field line, took another base on a double-steal after McDonald walked and scored on a bobbled grounder to third.
Tucker was 2-for-3 with three RBIs in the second game, wen Sorrow doubled twice and No. 3 batter McDonald walked three times after getting three hits along with Lance and Patterson in game one.
"We played well defensively and got some big two-out hits," Dennis acknowledged. "That usually tells the tale in conference games. You have to close innings out and get two-out hits.
"This was a tough day to be out here, so the guys deserve a lot of credit for playing the way they did."
First baseman Roach ended one inning by flipping over the fence in catching a foul pop-up.