Facing longtime rival McMinn County, which has won just twice in 15 games after losing three starters to injury the opening week, the Bears found themselves trailing 1-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning.
Seniors Jacob Maynard and Brently White were able to combine for enough offense to pull out a 2-1 Bradley victory at the McKenzie Baseball Complex.
“We played well enough to win the game,” commented Bear head coach Travis Adams. “We fought and scrapped to be able to come out on top in a well-played game by both teams.”
Bradley (11-4) sits atop the district standings with its perfect 5-0 league mark, with Ooltewah (11-7, 6-1) a game behind after blanking Rhea County 5-0 Monday evening.
Cleveland High (9-9, 3-2) pulled even with Walker Valley (9-8, 5-2) in the loss column after the Blue Raiders’ 7-3 win over the Mustangs Monday night.
The teams will square off again this evening to complete the home-and-home format as Bradley travels to Athens, Walker Valley visits Raider Field and Ooltewah hosts the Eagles.
The Bears and Cherokees managed a half dozen hits each Monday evening, but neither could get on the scoreboard in the first three innings.
McMinn County (2-13, 2-5) broke the scoreless tie in the top of the fourth when Ryan Fowler beat out an infield hit and, after a two-out walk moved him to second, Jay Odum laced the second of his three hits on the night to drive him home.
After leaving five runners on base in the third and fourth frames combined, Bradley finally found its way all the way around the bases in the bottom of the fifth.
White led off the at bat with a single, was bunted to second by Charles Chavis, moved to third on a groundout to the right side of the infield by Caleb Pippenger and came home when Maynard lifted a high shot that the Tribe right fielder lost in the lights to let fall in for a hit.
In the bottom of the sixth, Jacob Fowler got the Bears rolling with a one-out ringing double into the right-center field gap before White brought home pinch runner Chandler Duggan with the game-winning run, lacing a two-out single to left.
Both Maynard and White had two hits apiece, plus an RBI in the victory, while junior Cal Pickel joined Fowler with a double.
Maynard improved to 4-0 on the mound with a complete-game effort, striking out eight, walking three, scattering six hits and stranding nine Cherokee base runners, including working out of bases-loaded situations in both the fourth and sixth frames.
“He’s (Maynard) a competitor. He did a good job of keeping them at bay,” declared coach Adams. “He got in a couple of jams, but worked his way out of them.”
Bradley stranded 10 runners in the contest, including two or more in four straight innings.
“We had some opportunities that we weren’t able to cash in on, but we stayed focused and were able to come up with enough offense to pull out the win,” the Bear coach remarked.
“It feels good to be in first place right now, but all this is practice for May (the district tournament),” Adams added. “We need to concentrate on what we can control, how we play, and not worry about what the other teams are doing.”
McMinn County 000 100 0 — 1 6 0
Bradley Central 000 011 x — 2 6 1
WP: Jacob Maynard (4-0) 7 IP, 8 Ks, 3 BB, 6 hits, 1 ER; LP: Corbin Powers 6.2 IP, 4 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HBP, 6 hits, 2 ER. 2B: Cal Pickel, Jacob Fowler (BC); RBI: Jacob Maynard, Brently White (BC). Highlights: Jay Odum 3-3 RBI (MC); Maynard 2-3 RBI, White 2-4 r, GWRBI (BC). Records: McMinn County 2-13, 2-5 District 5-AAA; Bradley Central 11-4, 5-0 District 5-AAA.