Tuesday evening’s 2-1 win over cross-county rival Walker Valley gave the Bears their sixth win in as many games, solidifying the fact that this 2014 team is a very different kind of beast.
Bradley’s sixth straight win and first District 5-AAA win didn’t come without a battle on the pitch though, as Walker Valley’s young, talented team lived up to their new and improved reputation as well.
“That Walker Valley team is hands-down the best team we’ve played so far this season. I think they are going to shock some people, and I have a feeling they will beat one of the big four like East Hamilton or Ooltewah,” Bears head coach Tucker Blackmon proclaimed.
“They possess the ball so well that I thought they even did a better job than we did. They’re just a young team, and physicality helped us since we’re an older team now. I’m really impressed with that Walker Valley team, and I’m not going to enjoy playing them in the future.”
The almost evenly matched play didn’t come as a surprise for Mustangs’ head coach Tom Bayliss.
“I knew the game would be fairly even because they’ve played teams that are similar to the ones that we’ve played,” Bayliss stated.
It took a full 20 minutes of play before Bradley was able to get one past Walker Valley’s starting keeper, who left the game for the remainder of the first half due to an injury.
Bradley’s Warren Crisp crossed the ball in to Jay Kim, who was then able to knock it in.
“Honestly, with that first goal we knocked it down into the box for them. So then we were down a goal and playing catch-up,” Bayliss explained.
The Mustangs would be forced to continue playing catch-up after the Bears were able to capitalize on another scoring opportunity.
Logan Snyder sent a ball through to Esteban Beltramin, who was able to finish it for his eighth goal of the season.
“Esteban is so smooth with the ball that he makes guys fall down (when they try to get it away),” Blackmon commented.
The Black-and-Gold had a 2-0 lead at the half, but the Mustangs squad was far from finished on the field.
Freshman keeper Skyler Swafford returned to guard the goal in the second half, and was able to hold off numerous scoring attempts by Bradley in the remaining 40 minutes of play.
After 27 scoreless minutes, Blayne Carroll was able to put one in the back of the Bears’ net, making it a one-goal game.
The young Walker Valley team, who had one lone senior in their lineup of sophomores and freshmen, spent the next 12 minutes playing with the heat turned up.
A couple more chances came up empty though, and Bradley came away with the narrow victory.
“Our intensity was much better toward the end, and I think that if this game had gone another 10 minutes we would’ve been able to tie it up,” Bayliss declared. “Sam Gibson worked his tail off and did a lot of stuff for us and Blayne Carroll came in and got that goal for us. All four of our backs did a good job and both of those (Bradley) goals were really unfortunate.”
Coach Blackmon had nothing but positive things to say about his team after the game.
“Our entire defense, Mitchell Baker, Brendan Hayes, Alex White, Logan Snyder and of course our keeper Joey White, were so physical and consistent with their rotations that even when they got beat they could cover for each other. They made it very hard for Walker Valley,” Blackmon explained. “Walker Valley, on the outside, does a great job of holding their runs. Luckily for us, I worked all practice on Monday with my outside backs at covering the burst. Instead of sliding to the man, we worked on sliding back to the gap to cut off the angle, which worked out well for us (in this game).”
While the five wins leading up to Tuesday evening’s were important, Coach Blackmon felt this win over rival Walker Valley was especially sweet.
“This was a hard-fought win. I thought we made two good finishes, but it was a pretty even game across the board. I’m glad we were able to capitalize on our two goals,” Blackmon stated. “I genuinely feel proud that we won this one. When you beat a good team it makes you feel good, and this win makes me feel better than all of our other wins so far.”
Both Walker Valley and Bradley Central will face tough competition to close out their week.
The Mustangs will continue on with District 5-AAA play on Thursday, as they travel south to take on district newcomer East Hamilton.
“East Hamilton rocked us pretty good last year in a scrimmage and they should be a quality squad this year as well,” Bayliss commented.
The Bears travel toward the center of the state on Friday to take on Coffee County before they face both Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland next week.
BEARS 2, MUSTANGS 1
Halftime score: 2-0. Goals: Jay Kim, Esteban Beltramin (BC); Blayne Carroll (WV). Assists: Warren Crisp, Logan Snyder (BC). Record: Bradley Central 6-0, 1-0 District 5-AAA; Walker Valley 3-3, 1-1.