“We won’t knock you out all at once. We’ll jab you here. Land a body shot there. We’ll wear you down a little at a time,” declared assistant coach Matt Day while the Bears were beating out five infield hits and scoring on a pair of wild pitches on their way to a 7-1 victory over Soddy-Daisy in a District 5-AAA elimination game at the McKenzie Baseball Complex.
“That’s the only way we know how to play,” proclaimed head coach Travis Adams. “Nate (Mills, the Bears’ starting pitcher) gave a gutsy performance on two days’ rest and the other kids bought into that and rallied around it.”
“That sets the stage for a big one tomorrow night,” the Bradley coach said of tonight’s battle with cross-county rival Walker Valley in another “win-or-go-home” battle with a region tournament berth and a spot in the district championship game on the line.
The top-seeded Mustangs (22-9) will be trying to rebound after Saturday night’s disappointing loss to No. 2 Ooltewah, which will await tonight’s winner in the district title game Wednesday evening at 5 p.m.
The fourth-seeded Bears are now 24-12 on the season and split their two regular season games with the northside stallions.
“Some of these kids will go on to play college ball, but these are the type of games you remember for a lifetime,” Adams commented. “We’ve talked about mental toughness and not giving up. We’ve just got to keep doing what been doing and stay focused.”
Senior Dylan Johnston got the Bears off on the right foot Monday, lacing a double just inside the third base line to open the game and then scoring on a two-out wild pitch.
After taking the loss against Ooltewah last Friday, Mills retook the hill with a vengeance and struck out the first Trojan batter and got the second to fly out. The boys from northern Hamilton County then put together back-to-back singles, but on the second one the runner on first tried to advance to third and Bear right fielder Jacob Maynard gunned him down to end the threat.
Bradley loaded the bases in the third inning with consecutive two-out singles from senior Robbie Works and junior Caleb Pippenger, plus a fielder’s choice that didn’t work off the bat of Jacob Fowler, but the trio was stranded.
Soddy-Daisy (18-17), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, got a pair of base runners on in the bottom of the third but with the Trojan bench jeering and chanting, Mills reached back for a little extra and blew away the final batter on three straight pitches.
In the fourth, the Bears scrapped and clawed as the first six batters reached base and half of them came around to score. After sophomore Baylor Terrell got things going with a walk, classmate Cal Pickel, who went 3-for-3 while reaching base four times, beat out a push bunt.
Although Terrell was erased on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Johnston, a Trojan throwing error accomplished what Bradley was trying to do anyhow as Pickel moved up to third and Johnston advanced to second.
A wild pitch then brought Pickel in with the game’s second run while Johnston moved to third. When junior Brently White hit a grounder, the Soddy defender tried to get Johnston at home but he beat the throw.
Wiseman than ripped a single and advanced to second on the throw that tried to get White going to third. Pippenger then stepped in the box and lifted a sac fly to plate White with the third run of the rally.
Soddy-Daisy picked up its lone run in the bottom of the sixth when Hayden Bailey was hit by a pitch and his courtesy runner Levi Thornton moved up on a wild pitch and a sac fly before Caden Ricketts brought home around with a groundout. After Nick Xoinis worked a two-out walk, the Trojans once again tried to go from first to third on a base hit, but Maynard “hosed” him as well.
Being the visitors on their own field, the Bears picked up a trio of insurance runs in the top of the seventh when Maynard and Terrell started another rally with back-to-back, one-out hits.
After the pair moved up on a passed ball, the red-hot Pickel was intentionally walked before Johnston, White and Wiseman drove them in respectively.
The Bear bats pounded out 13 hits and, despite leaving a dozen runners on base, had more than enough to keep their season alive.
Along with Pickel’s three hits, Works and White both rapped a pair of hits in the victory. Works also drew an intentional pass.
Mills went 5 2/3 innings on the bump, striking out seven, walking two and hitting one while scattering a half dozen hits.
Senior Jonathan Hodges came on to get the final out of the sixth and struck out a pair in the seventh to notch his third save of the season. He lowered his staff-leading earned run average to 0.89 for the season.
“Hats off to Nate (Mills). He carried us and our bats got going to support him,” remarked coach Adams. “He got a little tired there in the sixth and (Jonathan) Hodges came on and did a good job for the save.”
BEARS 7, TROJANS 1
Bradley Central 100 300 3 — 7 13 1
Soddy-Daisy 000 001 0 — 1 8 1
WP: Nate Mills (5-2) 5.2 IP, 7 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 6 H, 1 ER. LP: Hayden Bailey 6.1 IP, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 13 H, 7 ER. SAVE: Jonathan Hodges 1.1 IP, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 2 H, 0 ER. 2B: Dylan Johnston, (BC); Andy Wright (SD). RBI: Brently White 2, Caleb Pippenger, Chase Wiseman, Johnston (BC); Caden Ricketts (SD). Highlights: Cal Pickel 3-for-3, BB, 2 r; Robbie Works 2-for-4, IBB; White 2-for-5, 2 RBI, r (BC). Records: Bradley 24-13; Soddy-Daisy 18-17.