“We have three guys back who got to play a lot last year but other than that we have very little varsity experience,” related Travis Adams as he prepares for his fourth season at the Bear helm.
The challenge is a familiar one for the former Black-and-Gold shortstop on the 1994 state championship team. Last year Bradley also faced losing two-thirds of their starting lineup from the previous season but managed to put together a 19-14 season before falling to District 5-AAA champion Soddy-Daisy in the league’s semifinal playoffs.
“It’s all going to start on the mound,” Adams declared. “We lost our top three pitchers and we only have one pitcher among our four seniors. The younger guys are going to have to grow up quickly. If they can throw strikes and keep the ball down, our defense will be able to help them out.”
“We’re going to get in 30-plus (varsity) games, plus JV and freshmen games, in a month and a half so its going to be tough, busy schedule with not a lot of down time,” the coach added. “Everybody will get plenty of innings but that kind of schedule sometimes wears on a pitching staff.”
Adams stated juniors Jordan Whitmire and Jonathan Hodges “have had the best pre-seasons” and are the front runners to be his “district” starters in the home-and-home 5-AAA games each Monday and Tuesday of the season.
“Jordan has a lot of untapped potential and has had the best pre-season performance with a lot of consistency in his pitching,” Adams assessed. “Hodges has been a big surprise. He worked hard in the off season and developed a couple of more pitches. He studies the game and has become more of a pitcher, rather than a thrower.”
The Bear coach will also put the ball in the hands of senior Dakota Ward, juniors Robbie Works and Chase Wiseman, plus sophomores Nate Mills, Jacob Maynard and Jacob Fowler.
After a strong freshman season, Caleb Pippenger returns behind the plate for the Bears. “Caleb’s not real flashy, but he plays to his strengths. He does a good job of framing the pitch and if the pitchers do a good job of holding runners on, then he should be able to throw out more than his share when they try to steal,” the coach remarked.
Bradley is also set at second base with Trevor Jones returning for second season as a starter. “Trevor finds a way to get on base,” Adams expressed. “He broke the school record for being hit by a pitch. We’re going to need him on base even more this season as he is moving from the 9-hole to either the 1 or 2.”
After seeing a lot of playing time last season, seniors Hayden Robinson and Josh Lee will once again patrol the Bear outfield. Robinson will shift from left field to center for this season, while Lee will likely be at one of the corner spots.
“Our corner spots are still up in the air and we’re looking for a couple of guys to step up,” Adams related.
Ward will hold down the “hot corner” of the infield and hit in the “meat” of the Bear batting order. “He and Hayden (Robinson) are a testiment to what hard work will do for you,” proclaimed the coach.
When he’s not on the mound, the 6-foot-4 Whitmire will start at first base, while newcomer Bentley White can play the corner positions in both the infield and outfield. “He’s a very good runner and a very versatile player,” Adams explained.
With starter Dylan Johnston out for the season after suffering an injury that cost him most of the basketball season, Maynard and junior Corey Loftis have been battling for the starting shortstop slot.
Adams explained the bear offense will be more of a “base-to-base” style rather than a power game. “We’ll have to battle every at bat. We’ll need to do the little things that don’t show up in the scorebook. We don’t have the big home run hitters or star players so it’s going to be more about team play and doing our roles.”
“Other than (Drew) Massengale at McMinn or (Brandon) Zajac at Walker Valley (both of which have signed to pitch at the University of Tennessee), I don’t our district has a lot superstar players,” the coach assessed.
“We all know Soddy’s going to hit and Walker Valley has got strong pitching. Ooltewah has a couple of talented kids and Rhea and Cleveland are scrappy, so it’s going to be another tough district race,” Adams added.
Along with the six district home-and-home match ups, the Bears will be playing in four tournaments, two of which they will serve as co-hosts.
“With the school system moving spring break back, we weren’t able to go to Florida to start the season like we have the last several years, but we have the chance to play some tournament games at home as part of the Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy tournaments,” the coach explained.
The Bears will also continue to play in the Hixson Tournament, plus will travel to Memphis in early April for the USA Classic.
“The USA Classic is held at the stadium where the Olympic team plays and at Christian Brothers High School, where I coached when I first got out of college,” Adams related. “It’s a great tournament with a lot of very strong teams.”
The Bears will also play non-district games against Signal Mountain, Polk County, Chattanooga Central and McCallie.
Bradley will open the season Monday night at the McKenzie Baseball Complex against McCallie with “2011 Legends in Scouting Award” winner Lou Fitzgerald tossing out the first pitch at 7 p.m.
The Bears will travel to Chattanooga later in the week for the Hixson Tournament, facing Red Bank Thursday at 7 and Chattanooga Central Friday at 7. Bradley will return to Harrison Saturday for a pair of games against Chattanooga Chrisitan (3 p.m.) and Boyd-Buchanan (5:30).
The Black-and-Gold will open the 2011 District 5-AAA schedule March 21 in Athens against McMinn County.