“We had plenty of opportunities to score but couldn’t come up with the big hit when we needed it,” he added as his fourth-seeded Bears had at least one runner on second base in each inning, but came away with no two-out hits in a 3-2 win over seventh-seeded McMinn County.
The victory advances Bradley (22-12) to the second round Friday where it will face the winner of tonight’s battle between second-seeded Ooltewah (20-11) and No. 3 Soddy-Daisy (17-15). Fifth-seeded Cleveland High (13-17) also won Wednesday evening, downing No. 6 Rhea County 4-2, and advances to face top-seeded Walker Valley (21-8) Friday evening at 8.
After the Owls and Trojans open tonight’s action at 5, the tournament’s first elimination game will be played when McMinn County (4-24) takes on Rhea County (12-17). The event will continue Saturday with a pair of elimination games at 1 and 4 p.m., before the winner’s bracket final at 7.
Things got off to a roller coaster start for Bradley Wednesday as senior ace Jordan Whitmire struck out the opening batter, but then McMinn’s Blake Powers blooped a “dying quail” into short right field for a single.
Returning to the starting lineup after rehabbing an injury, second baseman Brently White dove to his right to stab a sinking line drive for the second out, but Cherokee clean-up batter Hunter Cardin sliced a triple down the right field line to plate the game’s first run.
The Bears were able to bounce back from the early deficit with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first when senior Dylan Johnston led off with a solid double to the left-center field wall. Johnston moved to third on a wild pitch and after a walk to senior Chase Wiseman, scored when classmate Robbie Works (.396 BA) added to his team leading 30th RBI by beating out an infield hit. Works scored a few minutes later on a two-out Tribe throwing error.
While Whitmire was taking care of the visitors by facing the minimum in each of the next four innings, the Bears bats had plenty of hits, but none at the right time.
Johnston roped a one-out triple in the second, but was stranded there. Junior Caleb Pippenger opened the third with an infield hit when he avoided the tag of the McMinn pitcher on a slow roller up the first base line. Junior Jacob Fowler followed with a double to put two runners in scoring position, but neither was able to come home.
In the fourth Johnston led off with a walk and stole second, but once again he was left there. Junior Jacob Maynard ripped a one-out double in the fifth, but after moving to third on a sac fly, was stranded.
McMinn was able to tie the game in the top of the sixth. The leadoff man was plunked and scored on a throwing error that should have ended the inning. The Bears once again got a base runner in the bottom of the frame when Johnston drew another walk. After he was erased on a fielder’s choice, Wiseman took his place on base, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch only to be left 90 feet away when the third out was recorded.
Whitmire once again hit the leadoff man in the seventh, but after giving up an infield hit, worked out of the jam with his sixth strikeout of the night and a groundout.
For the fourth time in the contest, Bradley got its leadoff batter on in the final at bat when Pippenger roped a 1-2 pitch into right field. Courtesy runner Corey Loftis moved to second when Fowler beat out a push bunt. After an infield fly-out, White was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. The Cherokee reliever then threw three straight balls to sophomore Baylor Terrell. After a strike down the chute, ball four was high and Loftis trotted in with the game-winning run.
Whitmire (1.56 ERA) moved to 6-3 on the season with his complete-game effort, scattering four hits, issuing three free passes and striking out a half dozen.
“Jordan had a little trouble early and then there at the end but he shut them down for four straight innings in the middle to keep us close,” coach Adams praised. “We have got to do a better job of getting runners in when we have the opportunity.”
Johnston reached base four times with his double, triple and two walks to improve his on base percentage to .458 on the season, plus 10 of his 28 hits have gone for extra bases. Fowler (.380 OBP) and Pippenger (.324) both helped out with a pair of hits, including a double.
BEARS 3, CHEROKEES 2
McMinn County 100 001 0 — 2 4 1
Bradley Central 200 000 1 — 3 8 2
WP: Jordan Whitmire (6-3) 7 IP, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 4 H, 2 HBP, 1 ER. LP: Ryan Fowler .1 IP, 0 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 2 H, 1 ER. 3B: Hunter Cardin (MC); Dylan Johnston (BC). 2B: Jacob Fowler, Jacob Maynard, Johnston (BC). RBI: Cardin (MC); Robbie Works, Baylor Terrell (BC). Highlights: Johnston 2-for-2, 3B, 2B, 2 BB, r; Jacob Fowler 2-for-4, 2B; Caleb Pippenger 2-for-4; Maynard 1-for-3, 2B, reached on an error; Terrell, 0-for-2, BB, HBP, GWRBI (BC). Records: McMinn County 4-24; Bradley Central 22-12.