By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd
MADISON – First-year Central Hinds Academy Chad Bradford – a successful major league pitcher for 12 seasons – knows better than anyone here at Madison St. Joseph’s D.M. Howie Field Tuesday night that walks can be the difference in a game against two evenly matched teams.
Unfortunately for Bradford, his team was the one issuing the walks and St. Joe was the team benefitting from them.
St. Joe took advantage of nine walks and two batters hit by pitch and held off a late Central Hinds rally for a 9-7 victory in the first game of the MAIS Class 5A, District 3 three-game series before an estimated 350 at chilly Howie Field.
St. Joe, in its first year in the MAIS, improved to 22-6 overall and 10-3 in region play. Central Hinds dropped to 9-4 in region play. Copiah clinched the No. 1 seed for next week’s playoffs with a doubleheader sweep Tuesday night of Cathedral and finished with a 12-3 district record. Central Hinds plays host to St. Joe in a doubleheader Friday at 5 p.m. at Hinds Community College in Raymond. St. Joe will be the No. 2 seed if it wins one game and Central Hinds will be No. 3. Central Hinds needs to win both games for the No. 2 seed. The playoffs start next week. The top four teams in each district advance to next week.
Bradford made a living throwing strikes in the major leagues. With an unusual submarine delivery, Bradford was a superb relief pitcher in the majors from 1998-2009 with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. In 24 career postseason MLB appearances, the former Byram High, Hinds Community College and Southern Miss alumnus allowed only one run and had a 0.38 earned run average.
Bradford’s pitchers had trouble finding the strike zone Tuesday. Junior right-hander Ryan Ethridge, who looked like Bradford with his side-armed, submarine-type delivery was Central Hinds’ starter. Graham Thomas relieved Ethridge in the fourth inning and after three batters, Brady Price relieved Ethridge. All three had issues throwing strikes.
“We gave them so many free bags,” Bradford said. “I think it was nine walks plus hit by pitch. They got nine runs on the board. When you give them free bags, that’s what is going to happen.”
St. Joe scored three runs in the first inning, one in the second and five in the fourth to take a 9-3 lead. The five runs in the fourth came with the help of five free passes (a combination of walks and batters hit by pitch) and then St. Joe senior pitcher Sam Thomas’ three-run double.
Central Hinds made it interesting in the seventh by getting seven of the first eight batters on and scored three runs. But with the bases loaded and two outs, St. Joe sophomore right-handed reliever Jennings Kimbrell – who replaced starter Thomas after the first three runners reached base in the seventh – allowed three singles and a walk, but struck out Central Hinds’ No. 9 hitter, Ethridge, to end the game. Ethridge, on an 0-2 count, fouled off two pitches before swinging and missing to end the game. A big defensive play in the inning was when senior left fielder Bodie Agnew threw out a runner at the plate for the second out.
St. Joe coach Gerald McCall, who led the Bruins to the MHSAA Class 3A state championship in 2018 and is in his eighth year as the Bruins head coach, was happy about winning, but knows his kids can play better in order to make a deep playoff run.
“We had a lot of walks and a couple of timely hits,” McCall said. “I still feel like we need to swing the bat better. We should have made a few more routine plays. I think we got lucky. They swung the bats well. At times, we were in the right spot. We made the side-armed guy (Ethridge) throw a lot of pitches and we ended up getting him off the mound.
“Jennings is just a sophomore, but he’s been big for us on the mound. I don’t hesitate to put him on the mound. His last three or four innings have been really gritty and tough. That’s why I made the decision to put him in. I knew he was going to battle. We’ve got to have a little more energy late in the game so we can put the game away.”
McCall, who played catcher at Meridian High, was drafted out of high school in the 13th round of the 1998 major league draft. He played eight years of minor league baseball before becoming a coach. McCall coached at St. Andrew’s for 12 seasons before coming to St. Joe in the fall of 2014. His 2018 state championship banner hangs down the right field line at Howie Field.
“I was telling the guys that state championship team that what they lacked in ability, they made up for it in leadership,” McCall said. “They just wouldn’t quit. I see a lot of similarities in this team. Actually, this team’s pitching depth is probably the best we’ve had. We’ve got five guys I don’t mind starting against anybody. They throw strikes and compete. We are depending on some young guys in key positions. Our bottom of our lineup has got to be better. If we can do that, we can play with most anybody.”
St. Joe’s first four hitters – senior first baseman and Meridian Community College signee Chris Watson, senior shortstop and Meridian CC signee Cooper Chaplain, senior left fielder and Coahoma CC signee Bodie Agnew and senior pitcher and Copiah-Lincoln CC signee Sam Thomas – reached base a combined 11 times and scored a combined six runs.
“We had hit the ball really well the last month and if we can eliminate the mistakes early, we’ve got a chance,” said Bradford, who has been coaching since 2010, the first three at Central Hinds, then at Hinds CC for three years (helped them to the 2014 national runner-up finish), then back at Central Hinds before taking over as head coach this season.
“I told the guys tonight; we take two on Friday we are in good shape. To win two games in a doubleheader against the same team is tough. We’ve done it twice this year, but not going to be easy.”
Central Hinds senior left fielder Hagan Coumbe had two hits and scored two runs, senior catcher Luke Knight had two hits and two runs batted in, junior right fielder Brady Price had two hits and two RBIs and senior shortstop Graham Thomas had two hits.