MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Soon after Ryan Giovengo scored the go-ahead run, the senior finished a two-inning pitching save as Bradley Central advanced to its first Class AAA baseball state championship game since 1994.
In all three of the Bears' victories at the Spring Fling they have entered the sixth inning in a tie, but their seven runs from that point forward provided the differences. Thursday at Oakland High School they won for the second time in the tournament against Murfreesboro Riverdale, 4-3.
"We are a clutch team and play smart baseball. I think we are able to do that because we have the best coaches in the state," Giovengo said after his signature postgame backflip. "They make incredible calls. They know everything about the other team. We are here because of great coaching as well."
Not a bunch with light-tower power, Bradley Central (25-14) has done little things right to go with stellar starting pitching and defense. Now the Bears meet a Goliath in Farragut (41-3) for the state plaque Friday at 6 p.m. EDT at Middle Tennessee State University.
"Our team has to scrap and claw," said Bears coach Travis Adams, who was a player on Bradley's 1994 state championship team. "It's got to be death by a thousand stabbings. We have kids in the right positions to make plays. Hats off to our players and staff. It's a complete team effort."
The Bears have made only one error in 21 Fling innings, and pitcher Jake Thompson bounced back from a two-run first to throw four straight scoreless innings Thursday with nine strikeouts, largely due to his curveball.
Bradley tied the score at 2 in the top of the fourth with an errant throw on a Giovengo sacrifice bunt and Freddy Johnson's opposite-field sacrifice fly. With the bases loaded in the sixth and senior four-year starter Dylan Standifer at the plate, a wild pitch and a throwing error to third brought in the go-ahead and eventual winning runs.
Giovengo put pressure on the Warriors as he led the breakthrough inning with a leadoff walk and stole second.
The Bears closer then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom half of the inning by getting a ground ball to Standifer, who tagged the runner advancing to third base and fired to first for the inning-ending double play.
"Ever since my freshman year I felt like we would be really good once we were seniors," said Giovengo, who scored two runs. "We went through a rough patch to close the regular season but have taken care of business in the postseason. It's great to be in the finals. I had a little tear come out on the mound."
Adams said to win a state championship over the Admirals, who have just one loss to an in-state opponent this season (Hardin Valley Academy), it will take all hands on deck.
"We are all in for this state championship game," Adams said. "I remember when we won it last, thanking Damon Callahan for crawling back out on the mound. He threw 11 innings the first game and threw a complete game in the championship. We are going to try to scrap and take care of us again."
» Sequatchie County 6-2, Forrest 1-4: The Indians' heroic fight back from the losers bracket ended one win away from a state championship game.
Sophomore lefty Sergio Camp was brilliant in game one as he threw 5 1/3 scoreless, one-hit innings of relief for the win after picking up a save the day before. Logan Potts and Collin Hudson each drove in a pair of runs to beat the Rockets.
Sequatchie County's 28-win season then came to a close as a three-run sixth keyed a comeback victory for Forrest. Trevor Ritchie ended his career with two hits and an RBI in the loss.
"This year the kids realized how good they can be," Indians coach Derrin Easterly said. "They came together and grinded to the finish. This was a special group of guys."