A week ago, Bradley Central scored three quick first-inning runs, but couldn’t keep the lead in an 8-6 loss to Soddy-Daisy in the District 5-3A tournament title game.
On Wednesday, the Bears ruled out a repeat of that performance.
Bradley jumped out to a 5-0 lead after just two innings – powered by home runs from Dylan Standifer and Riley Black in the second – and senior left-hander Jake Thompson made the lead standup and the Bears walked away with a 7-3 win that sealed their second straight Region 3-3A tournament championship and third in four years.
Black reminded the Bears of a quick regional history lesson after the game.
“Last year we won the region, got back home and hosted Stewarts Creek (in the sectional) and had a devastating loss,” he said. “I’m ready to come back and get some redemption this year for sure.”
This time around, Bradley (21-14) will host Lincoln County (16-17) in the sectional round Thursday at 7 p.m. at Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex. Riverdale beat Lincoln County, 3-2, on Tuesday for the Region 4-3A title.
Lincoln County has graduation on Friday and Bradley’s senior ceremony is scheduled Saturday morning, thus the reason for playing a day early.
Soddy-Daisy (23-13) will play at Riverdale (24-12) Friday at 6 p.m. CDT. The Warriors have a six-game winning streak, all coming in the postseason.
“We weren’t in this game from pitch number one and that’s the truth,” Soddy-Daisy coach Jim Higgins said. “We didn’t play our best baseball today. Their pitcher threw a good game and our pitching didn’t do that. All you can do in a situation like that is tip your cap to Bradley.”
The Bears, who won a region semifinal game on the road at Cookeville on Monday, won the 2018 region tourney by clobbering Cookeville, 15-5. In 2016, Bradley knocked off Rhea County, 12-0, to win the title.
“You have to learn from your mistakes,” Standifer, who was referring to last week’s loss to the Trojans in the district title showdown. “We didn’t want that to happen again, especially in the region championship. We got the win tonight and that’s big. All the (seniors) wanted to play one more game at our place.”
Ironically, the Bears and Trojans have battled evenly since 2008. In the 29th game over that span, Monday’s win gave Bradley a 15-14 edge in the series.
Thompson (3-3) was making his seventh start of the season and had beaten the Trojans 5-0 in the Bears’ season opener. He scattered six hits, including an RBI single by Spencer Gore in the seventh when the Trojans scored twice, struck out eight and walked three.
“Then he had some control problems and went away from pitching for a while,” Bradley coach Travis Adams said. “For him to step up in this environment I was really proud of him. That’s a senior for you this time of year.”
Thompson used a fastball and at times a knee-buckling curveball to keep the Trojans off balance at the plate. The Trojans never had more than one hit in an inning and their run in the fourth inning was unearned and one of the two runs in the seventh resulted from a throwing error that would have ended the game.
“I was just trying to throw strikes so we could get the win,” Thompson said. “I got a little tired (in the seventh) but knew if I just threw some groundballs my team would make some plays.”
Thompson did manage to finish, throwing 106 pitches – 14 shy of the TSSAA mandated 120 – and 67 were strikes.
Adams had Jake Prock warming up in the bullpen as Thompson struck out Aaron Couch to end the game.
“I really wanted him to (finish the game),” Adams said. “But I was within a batter of two of getting him out. I was thinking stay calm, stay calm. If we could have gotten the double play the game would have been over, but we’re in the sub-state at home and that’s what you want.”
Conversely, Higgins was forced to use four pitchers and the Bears made the most of nine hits and 10 walks to fuel their seven-run attack.
Five of Bradley’s run came like lightning bolts.
Standifer hit the first pitch from Trojans starter Chris Branam into left field for a single and stole second base. Caden Sherlin walked. Riley, who was 3 for 4 after going 4 for 5 in the semifinal win against Cookeville, singled to load the bases.
Branam walked Thompson for force in the game’s first run. Ryan Giovengo’s sacrifice fly pushed Sherlin across the plate. Branam walked Tucker Still but the Bears couldn’t pad their two-run cushion.
Not right away.
With one out in the second inning Standifer, the Bears’ all-time hits leader, rocked Branam for a towering solo home run to center field.
“It felt really good and when I hit it and knew it was gone,” he said. “We were fired up coming into this game and felt it we could get some early runs we would roll. Anyone who has ever pitched, knows if you get a couple of quick runs it makes it easier for a pitcher to throw balls in the zone.”
Sherlin followed Standifer’s first homer – he’s hit a bunch off the wall,” Adams said -- with a single up the middle off reliever Wyatt Warren and Black cracked a smash that just kept sailing away into the night air to give the Bears the 5-0 advantage.
“Honestly, it was a towering shot because I squared it up,” Black said. “I thought it was going to be a long fly ball to center but I saw (the outfielder) back up and start looking and I knew it was gone.”
One of the Bears two starting pitchers – Black is the other one – Standifer knows the importance of an early lead for any hurler.
“For sure,” he said. “Jake’s been a little iffy all season but has pitched well against Soddy. Tonight, he had his stuff and those early runs definitely gave him some comfort on the mound.”
The Trojans did more to help Bradley score twice in the fifth inning than the Bears.
Kaleb Petty walked Still, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a fly-ball out to the outfield. Petty then walked Ashton Simmons with two outs and uncorked three wild pitches for the two runs. After Petty walked Standifer, Higgins brought in Taylor Flint. He struck out Sherlin to end the inning.
Landon Maynor’s single scored courtesy runner Dylan Caldwell, in for Harrison Travis, with the Trojans’ first run. In the seventh, Gore’s single pushed one run across and the other scored on Giovengo’s error.
The Trojans now head to Murfreesboro to take on Riverdale.
“Honestly, people have their assumptions about how things may be for that game but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a baseball game. If we hit, catch and throw like we’re capable of playing we’ll have a chance to win the ballgame.”
Bradley Central 230 020 0 – 7 9 2
Soddy-Daisy 000 100 2 – 3 6 0
Thompson and Black; Branam, Warren (2), Petty (5), Flint (5) and Travis.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)