In his last three starts, Bradley Central’s Riley Black has basically put a brick wall around home plate.
Black has thrown three consecutive shutouts, including one-hit performances against Walker Valley and Ooltewah.
On Monday, Black checked East Hamilton on five hits and shut down the Hurricanes, 6-0, in a key District 5-3A baseball game at East Hamilton High School.
“Obviously, the scoreboard shows that practice in the offseason has paid off in a big way,” Black said after Monday’s opener of a two-game series against the Hurricanes. “When I get the call for the mound I want to stay out there for the whole game. I was definitely feeling it today and I’m glad I did a good job.”
It was Black’s fourth complete game and the team’s mound ace put the Bears (16-8, 8-1) a step closer to securing the regular season title and No. 1 seed for the postseason tournament.
East Hamilton fell to 20-6 overall and 9-2 in the district.
“He does what he’s asked to do,” Bradley coach Travis Adams said of Black. “He doesn’t overpower people but he’s got enough with his fastball and he’s got a couple of pitches to go along with it. The stakes were about as high as they’ve been this year district-wise and there was no mystery coming into today’s game. It’s a big series for both sides and Riley was great with location; he’s pretty good.”
As the Bears’ Monday starter throughout the district schedule (except for April 7 against Ooltewah when coaches played to avoid inclement weather the next day), Black goes to the mound with a target on his back and gets the opponent’s best swings with the bat.
The junior right hander gave up three runs in the opener against Soddy-Daisy and two against McMinn and both were unearned.
Since then, there has been nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard when Black is on the mound.
The Hurricanes had at least one base runner in each of the three innings and had two in the fourth. Each time Black squelched East Hamilton’s bid to score.
Will Campbell drew a two-out walk in the first and Black struck out Bradley Garland, who had two of the Canes’ five hits.
Black Hedrick slapped a one-out single to center in the second. Black fanned Pierce Durham and Blaine Savage grounded out.
In the third, Josh Brown, batting ninth, led off with a single. Black quickly retired Conner Thornburg on a ground ball, struck out Jack Stone for the second time and Campbell grounded out.
Garland singled in the fourth. Black set down Noah Pridmore and Hedrick on hard-hit line drives to the outfield before Durham singled to right. The next hitter, Blaine Savage, grounded out to end the inning.
Over the final three innings Black retired nine of the last 11 – Garland singled in the sixth and Brown walked in the seventh.
“Black is good,” East Hamilton coach Steve Garland said. “He wasn’t overpowering but kept us off balanced threw a lot of strikes. He moved the ball in and out and you have to tip your hat to him.”
Black has now thrown 21 consecutive scoreless innings and his ERA is now 1.25.
“That’s pretty strong,” Garland said. “It’s hard to win if you don’t score; it’s hard to lose if you don’t give up a run.”
Bradley Central, the defending regular season and tournament champions, kept pecking away at East Hamilton starter Isaac Moulds and eventually stretching the margin to six runs in the seventh.
Dylan Standifer led off the first with a walk, was sacrificed to second and went to third on a groundout. Moulds induced Jake Thompson to hit a fly ball to left field and Brown dropped the ball near the foul line, allowing courtesy runner Iverson Vasquez to score the Bears’ first run.
Ninth-place hitter Logan Weeks, who was 2 for 2 with a run scored and two RBIs, started the third with a double to right-center field. He went to third on a fielder’s choice an infield hit and scored on Caden Sherlin’s infield hit.
Sherlin later came home on Still’s hit up the middle.
“I feel like Isaac did well, but he was a little snake bit,” Garland said. “Some balls that found the grass maybe were on pretty good pitcher’s pitches and he might have missed a spot (location) or two, but that happens in high school baseball.”
Still came into play again in the fourth with a sacrifice fly that pushed Freddy Johnson across the plate with the Bears’ fourth. Johnson singled, stole second and went to third on a groundout.
Moulds struck out the side in the fifth – that capped a string of four straight whiffs – before Still started the sixth with a single to left. Still moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Weeks’ infield hit. Savage, playing shortstop, slid trying to make the play, but the ball rolled away to the edge of the outfield grass.
Sherlin started the Bears’ seventh with a walk, stole second, went to third on a fly-ball out and came home on Still’s two-out single to center.
“I’ve been struggling here lately and I just wanted to put the bat on the ball today,” Still said. “I think that was the same for everybody today. We’ve had some up-and-down games and we had to come in here and swing the bats good.”
Now, the two top title contenders in the district at this point, will go back on the diamond Tuesday and do it all over again.
“Tuesday will be just as big as (Monday),” Adams said. “They’re going to regroup and they’re a tough team to beat. As good as it was to win the first game of the series, you’ve got to have a short memory. Baseball is that way and you have to bounce back, get the kids ready and know what’s at stake.”
Said Garland, “Regardless of who won today, somebody was going to have to come back and do it again (Tuesday). We’ve got to play better baseball.”
After Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at the Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex in Cleveland, the Bears have two remaining games against rival Cleveland on April 22 and 23.
Soddy-Daisy 5, Walker Valley 2: The Trojans (15-8, 6-3) pecked away at seven Walker Valley pitchers and came away with the victory.
Garrett Dent delivered an RBI single to score Jacob Jennings, who walked, in the first inning. Seth Coffelt walked in the second and came home on Noah Howard’s hit to right. Harrison Travis tripled to center in the third. Courtesy runner Dylan Caldwell later came home on a wild pitch.
The Trojans stepped up the scoring pace in the sixth with a pair of runs: Coffelt and Will Ackerman both scored on error by Jack Essenburg.
The Mustangs are now 5-12 overall and 0-9 in district play.
McMinn County 4, Cleveland 3: With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Cam Smith walked, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. The Cherokees’ Matthew Pledge struck out swinging and was thrown out at first, but Smith scored on the play.
The Cherokees (12-11, 3-6) were held to four hits. The Blue Raiders (10-9, 3-6) collected six.
Bradley Central 102 101 1 – 6 7 0
East Hamilton 000 000 0 – 0 5 1
Black and Standifer; Moulds, Hixson (7) and Campbell
Walker Valley 100 000 1 – 2 7 1
Soddy-Daisy 111 002 x – 5 5 1
Allender, Smith (2), Price (3), Price (3), Hailey (4), Klepzig (5), Essenburg 6) and Calfee; L. Maynor, Guess (7) and Travis
McMinn County 200 010 1 – 4 4 0
Cleveland 100 200 0 – 3 6 1
Ronne, Grimmett (6) and Harris; Williams and Lee
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)