The Bears had held off a late Wildcat charge on April 17, 2010, to claim a 13-9 eight-inning victory but Thursday’s rematch at the foot of the Smokies saw Polk down to its last strike before a towering Michael Hargrove home run sent the game to extra innings and an eventual 6-5 win.
“People have been questioning our toughness. We answered that question today,” declared Wildcat head coach Bill Triplett. “We gave up a lot of ‘extra outs’ today. That’s mentally tough on your pitchers but our guys came right back and got the outs when we needed them.”
The victory was the first over the Bears since Triplett returned as coach in 2002. “They (Bradley) are a fundamentally solid team and Travis (Adams) does a great job with them,” the ’Cat mentor stated. “We haven’t been able to beat them over the last several years, so it feels great to be able to do it today.”
The Bears won the first meeting by a 5-3 margin back on April 1 but have claimed victory just once in nine games since.
“Right now we’re struggling,” coach Adams expressed. “In baseball you need all phases of the game to come together and we haven’t put it all together lately. We’re having to overcome some adversity and right now we’re not catching the breaks.”
“Although some people will look at the end of the game and may say we gave it away, we actually had opportunities throughout the game that we weren’t able to capitalize on,” Adams said after the Bears left 13 runners on base. “Our pitchers gave us a chance to win and although we hit the ball well (11 hits) we didn’t come through enough when we needed to.”
Both teams struggled defensively as only one of Polk County’s runs was earned as the Bears made three fielding errors; just two Bradley scores were earned while the ’Cats tallied five miscues.
The Bears (10-14) got on the board first Thursday evening when senior Trevor Jones stroked a two-out single in the top of the second to plate classmate Hayden Robinson, who had reached on an error.
Polk (10-7-1) exploded in the bottom of the frame with four unearned runs. After Bear starter Jacob Maynard had gotten the first two batters to ground out, Justin Brown reached on an error and scored a few moments later on a single by Collin Wimberley.
Brock Raper and Justin Webb drew walks on either side of Wimberley’s hit and all three came around to score when Tennessee signee Jared Allen smoked a shot so hard that even though it bounced as it left the infield, it quickly skipped all the way to the fence before the Bear outfielder could reach it.
Trailing 4-1, Bradley bounced back with a couple of runs after Jacob Fowler and Joshua Lee opened the top of the third with back-to-back singles. After they were moved up by a Caleb Pippenger sacrifice bunt, junior Corey Loftis beat out an infield hit to plate Fowler and Lee on the same play after the throw to first got away.
The Bears took the lead when Pippenger walked and Maynard singled to open the fifth frame. Loftis picked up his second RBI of the contest when he grounded out, bringing in courtesy runner Matt Cook. Maynard scored the go-ahead run a moment later on a Wildcat error.
After Bradley relievers had set down 8 of 9 batters in the fifth through seventh innings, Hargrove, who had previously walked and struck out twice, stood at the plate with a 1-2 count. The Cleveland State signee then connected with an outside pitch that he pulled and launched deep over the right-field fence to even the game at 5-all.
“We missed the spot on that pitch and he got hold of it,” Adams assessed. “Our pitchers did a good job, but our defense hurt us.”
In the eighth the Bears went down in order for the first time in the game and Polk was able to get back-to-back one-out singles from Duncan Coffey and Brown.
When Bradley was able to nail Coffey on a play at the plate, it appeared the visitors would force another inning, especially when Collin Wimberley hit a sharp grounder for what should have been the third out. However, the throw was low and unable to be scooped up, allowing pinch runner Chris Wimberley to score the game-winning run from second base.
Reaching base three times on an error, single and double, Brown was the only ’Cat with more than one hit in the contest. Webb (two walks and a double) and Brock Raper (two walks and a fielder’s choice) also reached three of the four times they batted.
Four of Polk’s seven hits went for extra bases with Brown, Webb and Allen all smacking doubles to go along with Hargrove’s dinger.
Jones got on base four times to led the Bear hit parade with three singles and also reached on an error.
Lee went 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored, while White helped out with a double and single plus he got on via a ’Cat miscue as well.
Jim Bob Maples came on to pitch the eighth inning for Polk, earning the win after setting the Bears down in order. Cleveland State signee Tyler Lee pitched four innings of strong relief, scattering four hits and giving up just one earned run.
Maynard started on the hill for Bradley, allowing just three hits and no earned runs. Jordan Whitmire struck out four and gave up just one hit in two innings of relief before Jonathan Hodges finished the game for the Bears.
WILDCATS 6, BEARS 5
Bradley Central 012 020 00 — 5 11 3
Polk County 040 000 11 — 6 7 5
WP: Jim Bob Maples 1 IP, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 H, 0 ER. LP: Jonathan Hodges 1.2 IP, 1 K, 0 BB, 2 H, 1 ER. HR: Michael Hargrove (PC). 2B: Brently White, Joshua Lee (BC); Justin Brown, Justin Webb, Jared Allen (PC). RBI: Corey Loftis 2, Trevor Jones (BC); Allen 3, Hargrove, Collin Wimberley (PC). Records: Bradley Central 10-14; Polk County 10-7-1.