The stage was set for a cross-county rivalry game of great proportions, as Bradley Central paid a visit to Larry Haney Field Monday afternoon with the hopes of being the first District 5-AAA opponent to steal a win away from surging Walker Valley.
However, with the bleachers packed, the softball Bearettes learned first-hand why Lady Mustangs can now boast a 6-0 record in the district, as the Navy-and-Gold posted a 4-0 victory behind a 14-strikeout, one-hit shutout from Austin Peay signee Sidney Hooper.
“It was a good district win today. Bradley is a great team and they fought every inning,” Walker Valley head coach Lauren Limburg said.
As well as shutting down the Bearette bats, Hooper got things going offensively for the Lady Mustangs, nailing one into center field to drive Hallie Davis home for the initial run in the bottom of the first.
AJ Chancey came up later in the frame with the bases loaded and delivered a two-out hit to center field to bring Hooper in.
Bradley Central (5-7, 3-3 District 5-AAA) wasn’t about to let the Lady Mustangs gallop away with the win that easily, and with Allison Conley’s pitching combined with some good defensive plays of their own, the Bearettes managed to hold their opponent scoreless for the next two innings.
However, things started to fall apart in the bottom of the fourth as inconsistent play and a few errors turned out to be costly for the Bearettes as Walker Valley (12-2, 6-0) scored two more runs.
A double by Baylee Boen brought home Davis, who had singled earlier. The final run of the game came in when Hooper lifted a shot to center that was muffed, allowing Boen to come in to score.
“We can’t have it in the second inning and then again in the fifth inning, it’s got to stay consistent,” Bradley Central head coach Christie McElhaney commented. “We have to get rid of the little errors, the little balls in our glove that we’re dropping. It just takes your momentum away.”
The Lady Mustangs were able to stump the Bearettes’ bats and shake up their confidence, as Rita Ard’s lead-off single in the top of the third was the lone hit, while Conley reached on an error in the fourth as the only other base runner for the visitors.
“I thought our defense played solid. We got the hits we needed. I think we need to a better job of when we get runners in scoring position, actually scoring those runs,” Limburg stated. “Overall I’m really pleased. It’s a district win, I have a lot of respect for Bradley and I’m proud of the girls for coming through and getting the ‘W.’”
“I think the game is very much mental. The team that has the mental edge will most of the time come out on top,” Limburg explained. “I’ve been preaching to the girls all season about being mentally tough. Everybody is depending on you to be mentally focused. Obviously the physical aspect is a big part of it, but I think the mental game is huge.”
Hooper had an impressive go at it from the pitcher’s circle, recording 14 strikeouts by the end of the contest. Three of those strikeouts came in the top of the seventh, as she finished out the victory.
“We just didn’t come with any enthusiasm or any go-get-’em attitude at all. We just went through the motions, for the most part,” McElhaney said. “I want them to go to the plate more aggressively. We went up looking not to strike out, and just watched pitches go by and ended up striking out instead of going to the plate to hit.”
Both teams are back in action tonight, with Bradley Central going up against visiting 5-AAA opponent Ooltewah at 5 p.m., and Walker Valley traveling to Meigs County for a non-district game at 5:30 p.m.
Bradley Central 000 000 0 — 0 1 3
Walker Valley 200 200 x — 4 7 1
WP: Sidney Hooper (9-2) 7 IP, 14 Ks, 0 BB, 1 hit, 0 ER. 2B: Baylee Boen LP: Allison Conley 7 IP. Highlights: Hooper RBI, run; AJ Chancey RBI; Boen RBI, run; Hallie Davis run (WV). Records: Walker Valley 12-2, 6-0 5-AAA; Bradley Central 5-7, 3-3.