CLEVELAND — In big games and big series against bitter rivals, stars needed to play like stars for McMinn County, and they sure did Tuesday night.
Hayden Frank recorded 12 strikeouts in his 6 1/3-inning start, Ollie Akens picked up the save in the bottom of the seventh with a tying runner on base, and the Tribe outlasted Bradley Central for a 3-2 win at the Toby McKenzie Baseball Complex to sweep the District 5-AAA series.
Frank (W), a Lipscomb commit, also got the offense going, breaking a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with his lead-off solo home run over the left field fence.
“It was a good swing on the ball, a two-strike approach,” said Frank of his round tripper. “I was looking for something to drive, and it was down the middle and I put a good swing on the ball.”
Akens, committed to MTSU, also drove in a run with a single later in the inning, and Sam Goodin hit into a fielder’s choice that still sent a third run across for the Cherokees, which they would need.
Frank’s shakiest inning was his fifth, which Bradley began with a walk and Xavier Thompson’s single, the only hit for the Bears all game. That still set up for an error on a bunt to score Bradley’s first run, and another sacrifice bunt sent another run across and cut McMinn’s lead to 3-2.
But Frank and the Cherokees’ defense sent Bradley off in order in the sixth, and Frank’s 12th strikeout against the Bears’ lead-off in the seventh inning made Akens’ save a little easier. A walk of Thompson after ended Frank’s night – but two outs later he was the winning pitcher.
“It’s just a nit in me,” Frank said. “The job’s never finished until it’s finished, and I’m upset I didn’t go seven, but props to Ollie coming in and doing the job and doing what needs to be done.
“Winning pitcher – that’s these guys. These guys got the win. I just did my job I was assigned to do.”
Akens started with a balk that sent Thompson to second base, but made up for it with a strikeout of Landen Kibler. Bradley’s next batter hit a deep fly ball to Will Harris for the final out.
“Whenever they need me, I come in and do my best and get the win and have my defense behind me,” Akens said. “They did great, and Will Harris caught that last one. Hayden Frank throw a great game to get the win, so congrats to him, and let’s keep this rolling.”
Combined with Walker Valley’s 4-0 loss to Cleveland on the same night, and the Cherokees (8-5, 6-2 District 5-AAA) are now in sole possession of first place in the standings.
“It’s a good opportunity for us with the standings in the district,” said McMinn coach Matt Ray. “Again, all we’re going to preach and all we’re going to try to do is take care of business, take care of the things we can control and hopefully get better from week to week.”
The Tribe plays again 6 p.m. today back home against Chattanooga private school Baylor in a non-district game. That game was moved a day earlier due to forecasted rain on Thursday.