Ten Chattanooga area prep teams in baseball region semis today

Ten Chattanooga area prep teams in baseball region semis today

Good bench can make a difference in postseason

May 15th, 2017 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

Ooltewah's Zach Wolfe slides safely under Walker Valley catcher Hunter Shamblin's tag Monday, April 24, 2017 at Ooltewah High School.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Ooltewah's Andrew Manning throws to first base to complete a double play during a home game against Walker Valley last month. Tucker Mendenhall, sliding, was out on the force at second. Despite a lack of superstars, Ooltewah has won 27 games and district regular-season and tournament championships this season, thanks to depth on the mound and beyond.

Ooltewah's Andrew Manning throws to first base to...

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


(All times Eastern)

› 3-AAA: 7 — Walker Valley at Cookeville; Warren County at Ooltewah

› 3-AA: 6 — Central at Sequoyah; 6:30 — Sweetwater at Hixson

› 4-AA: 6 — Smith County at Signal Mountain; Chattanooga Christian at Central Magnet (Murfreesboro)

› 3-A: 5 — Marion County at Silverdale Baptist; 8 — Boyd-Buchanan at South Pittsburg


More than any time of the year, the postseason is about contributions, and likely from every player who slips on a uniform.

"We have carried 25 guys in other years. This year we kept 17 on the varsity roster, and I think it's been good for those guys," said Ooltewah baseball coach Brian Hitchcox, whose team hosts Warren County in a Region 3-AAA semifinal tonight.

"We have had to use everybody, and everybody has stepped up and been important at different points in the year, but every guy has known he would have a chance to contribute."

In the other 3-AAA semifinal, Walker Valley goes to Cookeville. In Class AA, District 6 and 7 winners Hixson and Signal Mountain will host Sweetwater and Smith County, respectively, while those districts' runners-up, Central and Chattanooga Christian, play at Sequoyah and Murfreesboro's Central Magnet.

Region 3-A is all Chattanooga-area teams. South Pittsburg will host Boyd-Buchanan, and Silverdale Baptist is at home against Marion County.

There are no superstars at Ooltewah, but the Owls have compiled a 27-6 record and won the District 5-AAA regular-season and tournament championships.

"What we have are a bunch of guys that are good kids that have worked hard and focused on the task at hand, and we haven't had games where we came out flat or where the kids haven't been into it," Hitchcox said. "They've just been steady players that have worked hard."

On a team that has relied all season on pitching and defense, that group has been led by pitchers Daniel Willie and Ethan Walls, who doubles as the team's cleanup hitter, and Andrew Manning, Andy Reed and Jake Sullivan, who form the top of the lineup. Hitchcox also mentioned Trevor Wiggs and Austin Spurgeon, each of whom has come up with key hits and solid pitching moments.

Pitching, of course, gains importance with each postseason step, and Hitchcox said he and pitching coach Wes Caldwell have more than a half-dozen players they feel comfortable trotting out to the mound.

"We've had eight or nine that have pitched really well for us and that we have confidence in," Hitchcox said. "Wes does a great job with them. He understands their strengths and weaknesses, and they have all the confidence in the world in him."

Chattanooga Christian, which let a 5-0 lead slip away in its District 7-AA championship loss to Signal Mountain, also has reached into its dugout.

"Even in one of the (district) games last week, we played 15 guys," Chargers coach Ben Wharton said.

Yet as the games become more meaningful, all coaches will look more closely at run-scoring opportunities.

"I'm more of a big-inning guy, but we may be playing more for one run, which means with pitch counts, pitchers and even designated hitters, everybody has to be ready to play" Wharton said. "It's like (today). Matthew Mercer will be pitching for us. All of our guys are ready to go because in a win-or-go-home game (like today or Friday's sectionals), you don't want to save them for tomorrow when there may be no tomorrow."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.