CHAMPAIGN — If you're puzzled a bit about how to pronounce Gered Bales' first name — it's JER RED — feel free to call the Centennial catcher Bubba.
"It's the nickname that my grandma and sister call me," Bales said.
The Chargers senior might not look like a stereotypical Bubba — aren't they supposed to be husky, even somewhat pudgy? — but he produced some Bubba-like numbers at the plate Thursday during a Class 3A regional semifinal game at McKinley Field.
Bales drove in three runs, including two with a single that put Centennial ahead for good, in a come-from-behind 8-3 victory against Champaign Central.
The Chargers' No. 9 batter made the most of each of his other two plate appearances, too, producing a sacrifice fly for his third RBI and a sacrifice bunt that led to his team's final run.
"Gered's had kind of a tough season offensively this year, but I think he's starting to pick it up a little bit the last three weeks," Centennial coach Rich Hyde said. "He had good at-bats. He just looked like a confident hitter. I put him in the No. 9 hole, but he really was an asset to our team down there, giving us some production."
On this day, scoring production wasn't necessarily a product of hitting. Central (13-23) jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning with one hit, capitalizing on three walks and a hit batter by Chargers starter Josh Manolakes.
Centennial (25-11) countered with four runs in the second. Though Bales' single was the lone hit of the inning, the Charger line kept moving as right-hander Scott Runyan issued three walks and the Maroons committed two of their seven errors.
In fact, by the time Centennial had built its lead to 6-3 in the fourth, it still had one hit.
"It's crazy, but it shows we fight," Bales said. "We fight every at-bat, and we do what we've got to do to get runs."
The Chargers finished the game with five hits, but they reached base 11 other times via walks (7) and errors (4).
Meanwhile, Manolakes (6-5) settled down after his rocky first inning, shutting out Central over the next 41/3 innings on two hits. During one stretch, the Centennial right-hander retired nine of 10 batters.
"He did a good job after that first inning, got his composure back," Bales said. "I'm just glad he kept battling."
Manolakes was succeeded by Ryan McCuskey, who retired all five batters he faced, striking out four. The two Charger pitchers combined for eight strikeouts.
"Our kids battled, but we just didn't do enough things well today," Central coach John Staab said. "They were a lot sharper than we were in all phases, and that's the difference."
The win advanced the second-seeded Chargers to Saturday's 11 a.m. regional final, where they will face top-seeded Danville.