Great pitching, strong defense and clutch hitting. The Pioneers have used three key ingredients to pile up victories all season.
In the region tournament, Bradley Central stole the recipe and did it just a little bit better than Warren County. The Bears edged the Pioneers 2-1 in a pitcher’s duel, ending Warren County’s season at 19-13.
Andy Bunch was nearly unhittable for the Bears, going the distance while allowing just three hits to the visiting Pioneers. Tyler Hollingworth, who took the loss, and Jack Keele were nearly as sharp, holding the Bears to just five hits while striking out eight combined.
Bradley Central (24-11) was able to get just enough offense, getting a two-out RBI triple from Dylan Standifer to break the scoreless game in the fourth and adding a Tucker Cox RBI double in the fifth.
The Pioneers scored their lone run in the sixth. Brooks Helton singled to lead off the inning, giving way to pinch runner Omari Harris. The speedy freshman took second on a passed ball, then moved to third on a sac bunt by Keele.
Harris scampered home on a passed ball, giving the Pioneers a little life offensively.
Bunch quickly squashed any momentum, retiring back-to-back batters to end the sixth. Warren County went down in order in the seventh, ending a contest where only five Pioneers reached base.
When Warren County did hit it hard, it was usually in the direction of slick-fielding shortstop Pete Williams.
The Pioneers were threatening in the second inning, rallying on two outs. After an error, walk and passed ball put John Garrett and Will Cantrell in scoring position, Williams saved two runs on hot shot by Wesley Jennings.
Jennings shot a grounder through the middle, but Williams cut it off just before it got to centerfield. Williams spun and fired to first, retiring the Pioneer senior by a step.
Williams added a diving catch on a liner by Cole Estes and a back-handed stop and back-foot throw to retire Brandon Hennessee in the fifth.
“Pete struggled at the plate, but beat them with his glove with three great plays,” Bradley Central coach Travis Adams told the Cleveland Daily Banner following the game. “Pete was making the kind of plays you see on TV.”
Hollingworth nearly matched Bunch pitch for pitch, but two-out hitting helped Bradley Central. Briar Lee came through with two outs in the third, allowing Lee University commit Dylan Standifer to stroll to the plate.
Standifer bombed the first pitch off the right-field fence, allowing Lee to score and Standifer to get to third. Hollingsworth bounced back to strike out Williams to end the inning, one of five punchouts for the senior.
Hollingsworth, the District 6AAA pitcher of the year, left the game after allowing Cox’s run-scoring double in the fifth. Keele didn’t allow a hit while striking out three in relief.
Keele, Helton and Ethan Smith had one hit each for the Pioneers.
Bradley Central will make the trip to Cookeville Wednesday to play for the region championship. The Cavaliers advanced with a 7-5 victory over Walker Valley on Monday.