The Red Bank High School baseball team has found itself.
After a month of floundering -- in the throes of a 14-game losing streak -- the two-time defending District 6-AA tournament champions have won twice to reach Monday's winners-bracket final opposite regular-season winner East Hamilton.
The Lions scored five first-inning runs Saturday and made them stand up for a 5-2 victory over Central. East Hamilton earlier beat Hixson 9-2.
Central and Hixson will play a losers-bracket game at 4:30 Monday, before East Hamilton faces tournament host Red Bank at 7.
"It's how hot you get and when that counts," Lions coach Trey Hicks said following the win over second-seeded Central, which swept his team 11-5 and 10-2 in the regular season. "The game should always be fun, and you want it to be, but when you lose four straight weeks it really isn't."
The five-run outburst was a major fun factor following a 13-3, five-inning win Friday against East Ridge.
"It gave me a cushion and made me feel a lot more confident," pitcher Hagen Wilkey said of his first season victory. "I knew if I just pitched we could win the game."
Hicks said the lead made a huge difference.
"It takes the pressure off Hagen and the other guys," the coach said. "I have told the guys all along to relax, and the last two games they have done that. We got five runs off a really good pitcher."
Wilkey, a junior right-hander who served most of the season as the team's closer, was pounding the fastball and hitting his spots most of the game.
"My curve really didn't start working till the fifth inning or so," he said.
Wilkey finished with a four-hitter, and junior catcher Tyler Phillips threw out three would be base-stealers at second.
"He has stepped up defensive-wise. He's hit the ball well all year, but he also has probably thrown out 65 percent of the guys trying to steal," Hicks said.
Monday's matchup is the third straight 6-AA winners-bracket final between East Hamilton and Red Bank.
"I really wasn't surprised that we won today, and until somebody proves they can beat us in the district tournament, we own it," Wilkey said.
East Hamilton seemingly ho-hummed its way past Hixson in the other semifinal, but Hurricanes coach Steve Garland saw it from a different perspective.
"There is no such thing as a boring game," he said. "I challenged the guys to focus on the process, to win every inning, and we scored every inning. We did some little things well offensively -- getting down some bunts, hitting to the right side with a runner at second -- and Hunter Parker and Charles Chavis at the top of the order were the catalysts. Between them they had seven quality performances in eight at-bats."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.