MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Bradley Central’s baseball team could be excused if they start using the motto of Larry The Cable Guy.
At the TSSAA Class 3A state baseball tournament, the Bears “Git-R-Done.”
On Tuesday, the Bears scored two runs in the sixth inning and beat Riverdale, 2-1, in the first state tournament appearance since 2007.
Coach Travis Adams called on the same strategy a day later and the Bears rallied for three runs in the sixth and knocked off Independence, 6-3, and roared into lower winner’s bracket finals, just one victory shy of a berth in the state championship showdown.
Bradley Central will face Riverdale on Thursday at 2 p.m. at Oakland High School in the lower bracket final. Riverdale routed Independence, 13-2. The Bears edged Riverdale, 2-1, on Tuesday. Should Riverdale beat Bradley on Thursday, the teams would play the “if necessary” game at 4:30 p.m. That winner will face the upper bracket winner on Friday at 5 p.m. at Middle Tennessee State University for the 2019 championship.
Bradley Central (24-14) hasn’t been in a title game since it won it all in 1994 when Adams was the team’s starting shortstop.
“This was a big win,” Adams said. “We don’t really talk to the guys about the stakes involved that much, but you can’t deny how much today’s win means.
With the game tied at 3-all, Tucker Still led off with a single and went to second on Freddy Johnson’s sacrifice bunt. Logan Weeks struck out. When Eagles catcher Nick Wegman dug the third strike out of the dirt and threw to first for the second out, Still raced to third.
Sixteen-year-old Ashton Simmons, who was 0 for 5 in the state tourney, hit a bloop toward Independence shortstop Slater Shield. He dropped back about 10 feet, stuck his glove out but couldn’t hold onto the ball. The hit pushed Still home with the go-ahead run.
“That’s probably the furthest I’ve hit a ball all year,” Simmons said of the ball that barely got to the outfield grass. “I wasn’t thinking about being hitless at state because that stuff can get in your head. I pray before every at-bat hoping God can help me.
“When I hit the ball, I thought (Shield) was going to catch it and I got really scared. I got excited when I saw the ball pop out of his glove. I’ll remember this for a long time.”
Dylan Standifer, who scattered nine hits over seven innings, reached on an infield hit and Caden Sherlin drew a walk. Riley Black, who got the final out in Tuesday’s game on his 120th delivery – the maximum pitch count for pitchers in a game – and caught Wednesday’s contest, stroked a looper into right-center field to drive in two insurance runs.
Standifer’s hit chased reliever Cooper Hargrove. Black greeted the third Eagles’ pitcher with his hit to the outfield.
“I was surprised how slow the last guy was throwing and it messed up my timing,” said Black, who belted a two-out solo home run in the first inning. “I just wanted to make contact. I was told to take the first pitch. I think the next pitch was a fastball and I got the job done. We played small ball today and if that’s played right it can reward you.”
Until just before game time, Adams had two plans on how to use Black against Independence.
“I just wasn’t sure how he would fill for today’s game,” said the veteran coach who also praised assistants Matt Day for his calling of pitches and the scouting report prepared by Tanner Thompson. “He had a great performance (Tuesday) and what he did today was outstanding. Our first plan was to use him as a designated hitter. The second was to let him do the catching. That’s the one we went with.”
The Bears still had more work to do – Independence’s seventh inning.
Standifer retired pinch-hitter Creed McClellan to start the inning.
Leadoff batter Robert Haskell, who smacked a solo homer in the first inning, was issued his third straight intentional walk. He stole second and third.
Will Tobin lined out to Weeks in left field, who made a sliding shoe-top catch.
Ethan Sewell then popped out to third baseman Ryan Giovengo, ending the game.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Standifer said. “I wanted to get the leadoff guy and give us a chance to win the game in that last inning. This is the biggest moment for Bradley baseball since 1994. Our experience in tough situations helped for sure.”
Standifer went the distance and allowed nine hits and three runs while striking out five and walking three. The Bears raked Independence starter Chayton Gray for eight hits and five runs. He fanned six and walked one.
Standifer, Black and Still each had two hits for the Bears.
Giovengo had one hit and two RBIs, a two-run single in the third inning. The Bears didn’t score again until the fateful sixth.
The Eagles (26-12) got a run in the fourth on Jackson Riedling’s fielder’s choice and one in the fifth on William Burnette’s single that scored Hassell.
Independence 100 110 0 – 3 9 1
Bradley Central 102 003 x – 6 10 0
Gray, Hargrove (6), Kried (6) and Wegman; Standifer and Black.