MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Bradley Central went from the verge of being no-hit to watching Jake Thompson rip a run-scoring double off the wall triggering a sixth inning rally Tuesday as the Bears pulled out a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Riverdale in the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Oakland High School.
“I was struggling early in the game,” said Thompson, who hit into double plays in the first and third innings. “I had to do something because I knew Riley (Black) would hold them down.”
Bradley (23-14) advanced to the second round and will play the Arlington-Independence winner at 12:30 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, again at Oakland.
The opening game for both teams turned into a brilliant pitcher’s duel from the outset.
“It was a nail-biter,” Bradley Central coach Travis Adams summed it up. “Their kid really held us down but Jake got one hit at the right time. Riley turned in a really big performance too. The defense behind him was outstanding.
“The play left-fielder Logan Weeks made in the fourth inning with (shortstop) Ashton Simmons bearing down on him was a really big play. They almost collided but Weeks made a diving catch and got us out of the inning.”
Riverdale’s Joey Mitchell no-hit the Bears for six innings and didn’t appear willing to give up the gem.
“Mitchell in his last three outings put together carbon copy efforts,” Riverdale coach Barry Messer said. “You hold a team to one hit in the state tournament and you feel pretty good about that. But their kid made a lot of good pitches when it counted.”
Black wasn’t budging either, pitching out of jams in each of the first four innings with two runners on base. He went into the seventh with a shutout and recorded the final out on his 120th pitch, the limit for high school hurlers in a single game.
Black eventually settled down and eight in a row to keep the Warriors at bay before escaping a hair-raising jam in the seventh.
“That last inning was scary,” said Black, a junior who has committed to Lee University. “The inning before was great. I got out there and did my job and the defense behind me was great. Pitching is all about adjustments. In every game you fix this or fix that.”
The Bears, appearing in their first state tournament since 2007, finally found a chink in Mitchell’s armor when Caden Sherlin started the sixth inning with a walk.
Black, intentionally walked twice, bounced out to first.
Thompson then smashed his clutch RBI double off the fence in left-center field for a double and Sherlin raced home with the go-ahead run.
Ryan Giovengo struck out, the seventh of eight Mitchell strikeouts.
Tucker Still popped a ball high into the wind and Riverdale’s 6-foot-11 first baseman Brayden Siren, a Middle Tennessee State commit, struggled to get a bead on the ball, drifted far to his right and then dropped the ball. A Bradley insurance run scored on the play.
Black walked pinch-hitter Eli Delk to open the Warriors’ seventh. The smooth-throwing righthander fanned Jay Shiarla and Brett Dingess flied out to center field.
Black tried to pick off the runner at first, but the throw surprised Thompson at first and runners moved to second and third. Paxton Hughes smashed a blue-darter single past Black to center and dove in the Warriors first run.
Siren’s hit put runners at first and third.
With pitches mounting, Black struck out Johnny Powers to end the game.
“If I could take one throw back, it would be the one to first base,” Black said.
Like Riverdale (25-13), Bradley also had chances to score early.
Sherlin reached on an error and Black was intentionally walked in the first, but Thompson grounded into a double play.
The Bears stranded two runners in the second when Mitchell started with a strikeout and ended with one to kill that threat.
Dylan Standifer walked to start the third, moved to second on Sherlin’s sacrifice bunt. Black got another free pass and Thompson hit what may have been the hardest ball any Bradley player hit all day and that unfortunately turned into another double play.
The big first baseman came through in the clutch three innings later.
“The late innings have been our kryptonite all season,” said catcher Dylan Standifer, who has signed with Lee University. We fought through it today and I guess we’re learning from our mistakes. This was huge. We sure didn’t want to get into the loser’s bracket on the first day.”
Said Adams, “Once you get here anything can happen. You have to stay focused in the moment and getting the first-game jitters out of the way is huge.”
Bradley Central 000 002 0 – 2 1 1
Riverdale 000 000 1 – 1 5 1
Black and Standifer; Mitchell, McClure and Wilson.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)