CLEVELAND, Tenn. – While it seems there may be tension and drama all around these days pretty much every time the McMinn Cherokees take the field, Tribe baseball skipper Mike Ray barely even breaks a sweat anymore. He might as well be coaching from his sofa, such is his comfort level.
The Cherokees got caught up in another one-run District 5AAA battle outing last night and once again did enough right things to claim a 3-2 thriller against host Bradley Central.
In fact, it was the second straight series sweep for the Cherokees after opening the year with splits in their first two series and they find themselves entrenched atop the league standings at 6-2. And get this: of the eight league games, five of them have been one-run affairs.
“Anytime you are playing good competition it’s important to learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. We have had our fair share of uncomfortable situations, and I’m proud of the way the guys have responded. You just want to get better each week, and playing games with high-leverage situations makes you better,” said Ray afterwards.
Of course, the Tribe has plenty of reasons to be comfortable, most notably the four Division-1 signees they roll out on the mound. Senior lefty Hayden Frank got the call last night and the David Lipscomb-signee did not disappoint, allowing just one hit while striking out 12 before turning it over to MTSU-signee Ollie Akens to close it.
“We pretty much know what we are going to get on the mound, especially from Frank. He’s a competitor out there, and he’s going to give you that type of effort consistently. If we can string together some offense with those guys, we feel pretty good,” Ray added.
Andrew Ronne, an ETSU signee, was on the bump in Monday’s 2-0 opening win against the Bears and Will Grimmett, who is headed to Morehead State, rounds out the big four to form an impressive array of weapons in the arms race.
“We kinda play off one another, and we definitely motivate one another. I’ve got a great bunch of teammates behind me, so it makes what I do out there pretty easy,’ said the silky smooth Frank. “Pitching has played a big part for us so far, and I like where we are at this stage of the season. We are getting better.’’
Frank was locked in a nice duel with Bradley senior Ashton Simmons as both men cruised through the first three innings. Simmons, who has an array of pitches, pounded the zone all night, striking out nine while walking one.
“Ashton pitched well. I think he probably missed on one pitch and should have gotten out of the inning with just one run, but you have to tip your cap to their guy. When you strike out 12 times, you aren’t making them make many plays. We have to make some adjustments in game and minimize some of the other things,” said Bradley boss Travis Adams.
The Cherokees scored all of their runs in the fourth. Frank launched the one mistake Simmons made over the left centerfield fence for a leadoff homer. An error was followed by Andrew Beavers’ groundball single to left. Akens’ grounder found a hole into left to drive in the second run and Sam Goodin got a fielder’s choice RBI when his soft pop to center was caught on the short hop, forcing an out at third, but allowing Beavers to score.
The Bears are known for creating havoc once on the base paths, but Frank limited them to two baserunners through the first four before walking Daniel Cox to open the fifth and watching Xavier Thompson break up the no-no with a soft liner to left. The Bears then went to their bunt game. Landon Kibler bunted back to Frank, who threw it away at first allowing Cox to scoot home.
Simmons then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to make it a one-run affair.
After the one McMinn rally, Simmons retired 10 of the final 11 runners to give the Bears a chance in the seventh. Thompson worked a one-out walk which brought in Akens to close it. After a strikeout, Akens induced a scary fly ball to deep left from Iverson Vazquez to end it.
The win puts McMinn at 6-2 in league play in which it has outscored its opponents 35-26 in eight games.
“That’s a credit to those guys pitching. They give us that chance every night,” Ray smiled.
Beavers and Mason Roderick each had two hits for the Tribe.
MCMINN COUNTY 000 300 0 – 3 7 1
BRADLEY CENTRAL 000 020 0 – 2 1 1
Frank, Akens (7) and Roderick; Simmons and Lamberth.
(Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org)