CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Stewarts Creek’s approach Saturday to what it started on Friday was quite simple and dramatically effective.
Bombs away, boys.
The Red Hawks (21-15) were hitting laser shots all over the Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex field, knocking dents in the fences and in one case clearing it while routing Bradley Central, 14-2, in a Class 3A sectional blowout that produced Stewarts Creek’s third straight trip to the state tournament.
Sophomore Sam Slaughter was the Red Hawks’ lead bombardier. Slaughter went 3-for-4, scored three times and drove in six runs to power the team’s 13-hit attack. He had a three-run double in a four-run third inning and added a three-run missile that soared over the right-field fence and probably rolled down to the old site of the Cleveland Speedway in South Cleveland in a four-run fifth.
"We felt confident because they had their best guy going and we wanted him," said Slaughter, who has four homers this season. "We've been here twice and won both games to get to state. It's a very good environment because the fans are right on top of you. This game was a blessing from God."
Even Slaughter’s clothesline blast that went for a single banged off the right-field fence.
It was an awesome display of hitting prowess by the youngster.
"We had no answer for them tonight," Bradley coach Travis Adams said. "They were hitting pitches on the ground out of the park. I can't really say what we did or didn't do, but they hacked away at the plate and they don't get cheated. They've got some tough outs.
"That ball their kid hit out of the ballpark was a first-pitch curveball. It was a missile. I've seen maybe two balls to out to right because it just doesn't carry."
Stewarts Creek will have to be reckoned with at state if they keep up their smash-mouth offensive attack. The Red Hawks reached the title game in 2017, losing to Brentwood, 5-3.
"This has been our best offensive year," Red Hawks coach Mike Bartlett said. "Before we were dominantly a pitching and defense type team, with some clutch hitting. But now we're deep in our lineup from one to nine.
"And Sam is a strong kid and once he figures out his swing, and this sounds funny, but he's got some flaws. If he gets the barrel on the ball, just watch out."
Jacob Hamblen and pinch-hitter Logan Hanks in the fifth inning delivered three hits out of the No. 8 slot in the Red Hawks’ lineup. At No. 9, Jake Alexander went 2-for-4 and scored twice. Chase Vondohlen was 2-for-3 batting second behind Slaughter.
With so many players contributing at the plate, it was like Stewarts Creek used a carpet bombing assault on five Bradley pitchers.
When play resumed Saturday after heavy rain postponed the game Friday night, Bradley starter Riley Black got the final out of the first inning on one pitch.
Then Bradley got its first crack of the Red Hawks’ starting left-hander Aaron Moriarity.
Leadoff batter Dylan Standifer ripped a single to left field and Pete Williams followed with a hit. Caden Sherlin tried to bunt, but popped the ball up. Moriarity appeared to catch the ball, but dropped it. Alertly, he threw to third for a forceout and Bryson Givens fired to second to complete a double play.
Andy Bunch walked and Riley Black singled to center, but Sherlin was thrown out at third.
That took momentary Bradley momentum and buried it.
"I thought we'd have the bases loaded and no outs," Adams said. "If we could have done something there it would have been at least an answer to them. It's tough and I'm proud of these guys. We had a great year and they overachieved. Early in the year I don't think anybody was picking us to make much noise at all. They got hot and I ran with it. Tonight was a little more than we could handle."
The Red Hawks, who also beat Bradley, 1-0, in Cleveland for their first state tournament appearance in 2016, got a RBI double from Camden Manning on Friday in the top of the first inning.
After Slaughter's big bases-clearing double in the second, he belted the three-run homer in the third.
Stewarts Creek added two more runs in the fourth on Bryson Givens' single to center. In the fifth, the Red Hawks pushed the score to "mercy rule" territory with their second four-run outburst.
With the help of an error, Stewarts Creek scored on a bases-loaded walk, the second hit batsman, a sacrifice fly and a hit.
Moriarity checked the Bears on four hits. On Wednesday, they clobbered Cookeville 15-3 to earn a spot in the sectional.
"When you get run support like I did tonight, it gives you a lot of confidence," he said. "I just tried to put the ball in the strike zone and let the defense make plays. It was a big relief to get out of that first inning."
Said Bartlett of his lefty, "He pitches our second game against Jefferson County to get us into last year's championship game. He's had a couple of so-so outings, but that was him at his best tonight. He competes and throws strikes. That's the third big game he's won for us this year."
Stewarts Creek 143 24 – 14 13 1
Bradley Central 002 00 – 2 4 1
Moriarity and Vondohlen; Black, Bunch (2), Thompson (4), Prock (5), Giovengo (5) and Taylor.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)