MURFREESBORO — Among loud, long hits by several upperclassmen, a little pooch hit by sophomore Ashton Simmons helped propel Bradley Central into the TSSAA Final 4 this afternoon."That was the …
MURFREESBORO — Among loud, long hits by several upperclassmen, a little pooch hit by sophomore Ashton Simmons helped propel Bradley Central into the TSSAA Final 4 this afternoon.
"That was the farthest hit I've had all year," stated the Bear shortstop of his sixth-inning bloop single, just over the head and out of the reach of the Independence shortstop. The hit drove in teammate Tucker Still with what turned out to be the game-winning run of the 6-3 outcome in the winner's bracket final Wednesday in Spring Fling action at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro.
"That's a huge at bat for him (Simmons), with two outs on this stage. He dropped one in there, got us a run and kept the inning going," praised veteran Bear head coach Travis Adams. "We were able to scrape together a couple of more to go with it."
The Black-and-Gold used the three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning to knock off fourth-ranked Independence (26-12).
While Bradley is making its ninth TSSAA State Tournament appearance, yesterday's victory advanced the Bears to the Final 4 for just the fourth time in program history, to go with the 1994 state championship and runner-up finishes in '91 and '80.
The 10th-ranked Bears (24-14) will once again battle No. 3 Riverdale (27-13) this afternoon at 3 EDT with a berth in the state title game on the line.
Bradley only got one hit, but rallied for a pair of runs in the sixth inning to nip the Warriors 2-1 in Tuesday's opener.
Riverdale rallied in the bottom of the seventh to nip seventh-ranked Arlington 5-4 Wednesday morning, before ending Independence's season with a 13-2 thumping.
The Warriors would have to beat Bradley twice today to prevent the Bears from advancing to the championship game Friday at 6 p.m.
The other semifinal action today has a rematch of the top two ranked teams in the state as No. 1 Farragut (40-3) takes on second-ranked Bartlett (33-13). The Admirals held off the Panthers 4-2 Tuesday before nipping No. 9 Summit 8-7 yesterday.
Bartlett bounced back to down fifth-ranked Sceince Hill 8-4 and outlast Summit 12-9 on Wednesday.
"It's been since '94 and we're tired of hearing about it having been so long since we've won it (the state title)," proclaimed Bear senior Dylan Standifer, who went the distance on the hill for the Bears yesterday. "We want to win one ourselves."
"Dylan (Standifer) had another strong performance (7 IP, 9 hits, 5 Ks, 2 BB) for us on the mound," praised Coach Adams. "He's not very fancy with his stuff, but he hits his spots, gets the ball over and we play good defense behind him."
The game started on a sour, but not unexpected note for Standifer, when Vanderbilt signee and projected first round MLB draft choice Robert Hassell drove his fourth pitch high over the 375-foot, extended-height wall in center field for his 20th home run of the season.
"We knew that kid (Hassell) was a stud. We were trying to pitch around him, but I left one over the plate and he did what he should have done with it," remarked the Lee University signee.
"We had watched him the night before, and knew what he was capable of doing," added Coach Adams. "We tried to sneak one past him and he taught us he is who he is.
"I'm glad it was a leadoff (HR), so no one was on base. We didn't really want to start the game with an intentional walk," stated the "Papa Bear," who gladly gave Hassell a free pass the next three times he stepped into the batter's box.
"Even when you put him on, he's so fast, he steals second and third and gets around to score. He is what is advertised. You can't mess with him, especially with the wind blowing out. We just had to tip our hat and move on."
Bear Nation got something to cheer about in the bottom of the first when junior Riley Black (.377 BA, .507 OBP) matched Hassell's launch with a two-out, solo shot just to the left of center field.
"It helped that Riley (Black) answered in the bottom of the first," related Adams of Black's fourth blast of the season. "There's a lot to be said for that.
"He (Black) threw 120 pitches yesterday (Tuesday), goes back and gets all the therapy last night for that. We talked about it after BP (batting practice) this morning. I had two lineups written out (one with Black catching and the other DHing) and he picked to be back there (behind the plate).
"He not only had the home run, but drove in two more with a another hit in the sixth, and also threw out a runner trying to steal today. He's a gutsy kid," the coach said of the Lee commit.
Standifer was able to a get little revenge on Hassell in the top of the third with a rare two-pitch inning.
After motioning the left-handed slugger down to first to open the frame, the next batter hit the first pitch for a fly out to Still in right field. The following Eagle, with Hassell trying to swipe second on the first pitch, popped up to Jake Thompson behind first base. The big senior made the catch and flipped the ball to Standifer, who was covering the bag for the double play.
Bradley was able to take the lead with a pair of scores in the bottom of the third frame. Standifer (.359, .486) and fellow senior Caden Sherlin (.343 OBP) came in on a two-out single by classmate Ryan Giovengo (.377 OBP).
The boys from Thompson's Station were able to cut the deficit in half in the top of the fourth, and evened the score in the fifth with solo runs.
"If anybody knows anything about us, they know we've been in that situation (blowing a lead) several times the last couple of weeks, so we know not to panic," remarked Standifer. "We've been there before, so we know just to execute."
The game-winning rally began with Still opening the bottom of the sixth with a single to left.
Senior Freddy Johnson moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt, and he went to third on a passed ball.
After having a brief word with the Lord, Simmons stepped into the box and quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole, with a called strike and a pair of foul balls.
Forced to protect the plate, Simmons was able to get the bat on a ball just out of the strike zone and lift it into short center field.
"When I was on deck and the guy before me struck out, I knew it was on me with two outs and Tucker (Still) on third. The sport finds you like that. You just have to come out and play," stated the 16-year-old.
"I pray before every at bat and give thanks to God, because I know He's there helping me. When I hit it, I thought he (Eagle SS Slater Schield) was going to catch it. I was saying 'please drop, please drop' and it did. I saw the ball go into his glove (as he was racing backwards), but then I saw it come out and I was alright.
"It feels great to be able to do that. I didn't want to think about being 0-for-5 in the state (tournament) before that. I didn't want to get in my head about it," he related.
Simmons, who has started at shortstop all season, had a designated hitter batting for him the majority of the year, going 0-for-9 during the regular season.
With Coach Adams letting him bat for himself during the postseason, he had been 2-for-16 prior to his game-winner, and now has driven in four teammates with his his three singles.
Standifer followed with his second hit of the day, a bullet too hot for the Eagle third baseman to handle and Sherlin drew a walk to load the bases.
Black stepped into the box and delivered his team-leading 36th and 37th RBIs, with a solid single up the middle for the game's final scores.
Standifer finished off his 100-pitch performance with a pair of infield pop ups sandwiched around a spectacular diving catch by Weeks in short left field.
"My defense played great behind me all game," said Standifer, who is now 4-2 on the bump this season. "That's what Coach Adams expects of us and that's what we did. They came up with some huge plays."
"Our defense played well. We were able to make outs, outs. That's the name of the game," added Adams.
"Our offense produced 10 hits and six runs, so we did a good job with the bats as well."
The two victories in the state tournament mark the most for a Bears in 25 years.
TSSAA Spring Fling
Class AAA State
at Oakland HS
Independence 100 011 0 — 3 9 1
Bradley Central 102 003 x — 6 10 0
WP: Dylan Standifer (4-2, 4.01 ERA) 7 IP, 9 hits, 3 ER, 5 Ks, 2 BB. LP: Chayton Gray (I) 5.2 IP, 8 hit, 5 ER, 6 K, 1 BB. HRs: Robert Hassell (I); Riley Black (BC, 4). RBIs: Hassell, William Burnette, Cade Hollingsworth (I); Black 3 (37), Ryan Giovengo 2 (20), Ashton Simmons (4)(BC). LOB: Ind. 7; BC 5. Highlights: Hassell 1-1, HR, 3 IBB, 3 SB, 2 runs; Logan Molinar 3-3; Burnette 2-3, RBI, run (I); Black 2-3, HR, 3 RBIs; Tucker Still 2-3, run; Standifer 2-4, (CR Iverson Vasquez 2 runs); Giovengo 1-3, 2 RBIs; Caden Sherlin 1-3, BB, run; Jake Thompson 1-3, BB (BC); Simmons 1-3, GWRBI, run. Records: No. 4 Independence 26-12; No. 10 Bradley Central 24-14.
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