After getting in a deep hole early, the Bears fought back to claim a 5-3 victory in what could be their final league game against Rhea County, which is switching to District 6-AAA next year.
“We made a mess in the first (inning), but in the end we did enough to win,” commented Bradley head coach Travis Adams. “Nate (Mills, the Bear starter) settled down and Chris (Miller) came on to finish it off strong.”
“Offensively, we left way too many runners on base (15). We’ve got to come through in those situations. “We finally woke up and got some runs.”
Now 18-10 overall, the Bears finish the district regular season slate with a 9-3 mark, the same as Walker Valley (17-11, 9-3), but the Mustangs hold the tiebreaker when it comes to the 5-AAA tournament seeding.
Bradley will take the No. 3 seed and square off against longtime rival McMinn County (3-20, 2-10) in the opening round of postseason play next week in Soddy-Daisy. The Bears will travel Notre Dame Friday evening for a regular season battle, plus play host to Polk County Saturday afternoon at 2, weather permitting.
Walker Valley is the district’s second seed and will face the host Trojans (7-20, 2-10) in the tournament’s first round, while Cleveland (14-18, 7-5) is the No. 4 seed and will face Rhea County (10-13, 3-9) in the opener. Ooltewah (19-11, 10-2) is the event’s top seed and will await the Cleveland/Rhea winner in the second round.
After the first Rhea County batter struck out Tuesday, five straight Eagles would reach base and three of them score before the second out of the contest, another K, was recorded.
A one-out walk and a Bear fielding error set the stage before Hunter Scoons, Jalen Smith and Hunter McClendon rapped consecutive singles as the visitors raced ahead.
Bradley looked like it was going to answer immediately by jamming the sacks in the bottom of the first, but to no avail as all three “ducks were left on the pond.” Two more Bears got on board in their second at bat, but once again to no avail.
After setting down seven straight Eagles following the initial scoring rally, Mills gave up back-to-back two-out hits in the top of the third, but was able to get out of the jam without any runs scoring.
Bradley finally got on the scoreboard with three straight hits to open the bottom of the third as seniors Jacob Maynard (.494 BA), Caleb Pippenger (.312) and junior Jacob Barnes (.307) each reached safely.
Maynard beat out an infield hit before Pippenger stroked a double to put both of them in scoring position. Barnes followed with a single to plate the first run. That appeared to be all Bradley would get as the next two batters got out, but then junior Logan Blackwell got “plunked,” classmate Baylor Terrell drove home another run with a single, plus another run scored on the play as defensive interference was called, allowing Barnes to come home to knot the game at 3-all.
A following walk to senior Brently White reloaded the sacks, but once again Bradley left them that way.
Bradley got a runner to third base in the fourth frame but once again to no avail.
The runs that turned out to be the difference in the game came in the bottom of the fifth when junior Cal Pickel led off with a single just inside the third base bag and on Blackwell’s sacrifice bunt attempt, the throw to second base was too late to nab the speedy Pickel.
After Terrell became the fourth Bear to get hit by a pitch to once again load the bases, White worked the Rhea starter for a hard-fought walk to bring in Pickel with what turned out to be the game-winning run.
After a pitching change, the new Eagle hurler uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Blackwell to come home. Drawing a walk, senior Charles Chavis reloaded the sacks, but an infield fly rule pop-up and back-to-back hard shots at the Rhea third baseman resulted in fielder’s choice outs to end the threat.
Down 5-3, the boys from across the river tried to rally in the top of the sixth with a two-out error, a walk and a hit to fill up the bags, but a pop-up to Chavis at short prevented the visitors from scoring.
A pair of one-out walks and an Eagle error once again gave the hosts a great scoring opportunity in the bottom of the sixth, but as in each of the previous at bats, the Bears left them standing.
Pippenger and Barnes led the Bear offense, each going 2-for-3 at the plate, with Pippenger stroking a double and driving in a run, while Barnes plated a pair of teammates.
White, the Bear leadoff hitter, reached base four times with a trio of walks, plus he was “plunked” once. Terrell and Blackwell got on base twice, with a hit and a painful free pass.
Mills improved to 5-3 on the mound this season, going 5 2/3 innings, striking out four, but walking three and allowing six hits and a pair of earned runs. Miller came on to get the final four outs to earn the save, giving up two hits, but no runs.
Rhea County 300 000 0 — 3 8 2
Bradley Central 003 020 x — 5 8 2
WP: Nate Mills (5-3) 5.2 IP 4 K’s, 3 BB, 6 H, 2 ER. LP: Hunter McClendon 4 IP, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 4 HBP, 7 H, 4 ER. Save: Chris Miller (S, 1) 1.1 IP, 0 K, 0 BB, 2 H, 0 ER. 2B: Hunter Scoons (RC); Caleb Pippenger (BC). RBI: Scoons, Jalen Smith, McClendon (RC); Jacob Barnes, Baylor Terrell, Brently White (BC). HIGHLIGHTS: Scoons 2-4, 2B, RBI; McClendon 2-4, Smith 2-4 (RC); Pippenger 2-3, 2B, RBI; Barnes 2-3, 2 RBI, r; Terrell 1-3, RBI, HBP; White 3 BB, 1 HBP, RBI; Logan Blackwell 1-2, HBP r (BC); Matt Wesolowski 3-3 (RC). RECORDS: Rhea County 10-13, 3-9 District 5-AAA; Bradley 18-10, 9-3 District 5-AAA.