Coming into the 2014 TSSAA baseball season, the Bradley Central Bears had a lot of question marks.
After battling through the brutal District 5-AAA regular season and tournament, Coach Travis Adams’ team has emerged as the league champions and will get to host a Region 3-AAA semifinal game for the first time in six years Monday evening.
“Coming into the season we weren’t young, because we have 10 seniors, but we weren’t experienced,” the Bear mentor expressed. “We had a new catcher, new middle infielders, a fairly new left fielder and third baseman and didn’t have a lot of varsity experience on the mound. The guys who have come in have stepped up and done a great job for us.”
The Bears carry a 21-11 record into their first region tournament since 2008, Adams’ first season at the helm when they advanced to the TSSAA Sectional playoff, falling at Murfreesboro Oakland on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Bradley will have a high hurdle to clear in the opening round of the region as Cookeville (27-8), which won the District 6-AAA regular season title, was upset by Warren County (17-21) in the tournament championship contest and will make the trip to the Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex Monday. The first pitch is set for 7 p.m.
“Cookeville is a well-coached team. It’s a surprise they are the ones coming down, but in tournaments you never know what is going to happen,” Coach Adams remarked. “This time of year though it’s not who you play, but how you play at this point.”
“We need to play our game. We’ll have Ty (King, the staff’s ace) on the mound and we need to make the plays behind him.”
King kept his pitching record perfect (7-0) with a four-hit shutout in the district title game against Soddy-Daisy earlier this week. The 6-foot-5 lanky right-hander has 84 strikeouts in 61 innings of work this season and has given up just four earned runs for a 0.46 ERA.
“Ty has progressed each year he’s been here,” praised Adams. “Last year he was a weekend starter and spot reliever, but this year has stepped right into the No. 1 spot and done a tremendous job for us. He has as much upside as any kid in the state.”
“He got tested right out of the gate against East Hamilton (the team that tied with the Bears for the regular season title) in the season opener,” the coach related. Despite having the flu the week before, King started the opener, giving up just two hits and an unearned run, while striking out five and allowing a pair of free passes before being lifted with a 6-1 advantage after four innings. After his exit the Bears blew the lead, eventually falling to the Hurricanes by a 7-6 margin in nine innings.
Also taking the hill for the Bears the majority of the time this season has been senior-transfer Brett Standifer (3-0), junior Chandler Hamilton (6-2), who had wins on back-to-back days in the district tournament, and senior reliever Seth Lee (2-4, with 1 save).
“These guys have been a pleasant surprise,” commented Coach Adams. “They have stepped up and done a great job for us. They don’t give up many free passes and have given us quality starts, which gives us a chance to win.”
“Coach (Matt) Day has done a great job of working with our pitches and calling pitches, while Coach (Tanner) Thompson has come in this year and helped out as well as (former Major League catcher) Ray (Stephens) giving his input.”
At the plate Bradley has a half dozen starters hitting over .300, plus its top-pinch hitter.
“We don’t have any big power numbers (only one home run this season), but we get on base and move runners around consistently,” Coach Adams commented. “We’ve had good overall production up and down the line up. Everybody has been willing to bunt and let the guys behind them do their jobs.”
Senior first baseman Jacob Barnes leads the offense with 38 hits, including a half dozen doubles and a pair of triples, while posting a .342 batting average. He and senior leadoff hitter Caleb Pace top the team in runs batted in with 18. Pace, who plays right field, also leads the team with 20 runs scored, with nine doubles and a triple in his 30 hits.
Seniors Logan Blackwell and Hunter Rogers have been alternating at third baseman and designated hitter. Blackwell is hitting .329 with 17 runs scored and 22 hits, four of which have gone for extra bases. Rogers is batting .258 and has the team’s lone home run.
Left fielder Baylor Terrell, also a senior, is hitting at a .325 clip with seven extra base hits in his 27 safeties.
Sophomore Tyler Carpenter and junior Tanner Cox have been sharing time at shortstop. Carpenter, who was limited to just pinch running and a couple of at bats during the district tournament due to an injured thumb, has a team-high .351 batting average with seven of his 20 hits going for extra bases. Cox is hitting .283.
Senior second baseman Chandler Duggan is tops on the squad with 24 base on balls and has a pair of triples as part of his .302 batting average.
Jordan Timmons, who has signed a scholarship to play collegiate football, has been the Bears’ main catcher with sophomore Kylar Lynn, who has three doules in his eight varsity hits this season, helping out when needed. Timmons raised his batting average to .304 by going 7-for-9 during the district tournament.
Austin Calfee was the hero of the district championship game with a pinch-hit, walk-off single to plate the game-winning run in the 1-0 victory over Soddy-Daisy. Used mainly as a pinch hitter, the junior has played some outfield, as well as pitched on the weekends, boasting a .314 batting average with 11 hits in 35 at bats.
Senior Cal Pickel paces the Bear defense, patrolling center field, making tremendous diving catches from gap-to-gap. A three-year starter, Pickel hasn’t committed an error the past two seasons and made just one as a sophomore.
“If the ball is hit between the 345 signs (in the right and left field gaps), then Cal’s going to catch it,” declared Coach Adams. “He’s made some amazing catches that have saved a lot of runs.”
“We came into the season hungry to prove ourselves. We knew it was going to be a dogfight with East Hamilton, Soddy and Ooltewah, but we felt we could be in the mix. We won some close games and we lost some close games,” stated Coach Adams, whose Bears went 6-4 in 1-run contests.
“We need to come out and play our game Monday,” the Bear mentor assessed. “We need to stay out of big innings and have some ourselves.”
Monday’s victor will advance to the Region 3-AAA championship game Wednesday evening to battle the winner of Soddy-Daisy and District 6-AAA champion Warren County.
If Warren County wins, they will host the title game in McMinnville, but should the Trojans and Bears be victorious, then the game will be played at BCHS.
The two Wednesday participants will also advance to the TSSAA Sectional round on Friday, with a berth in the Spring Fling on the line.