DES MOINES - The 31-2 Cherokee Braves, rated number one in Class 2A in Iowa most of the season, cemented that honor by claiming a hard-fought 5-4 State Championship game over defending champion Davenport Assumption here Saturday afternoon.
In capturing Cherokee's first State Baseball Championship in history, the Braves took out Bondurant-Farrar 3-2 in last Friday's quarterfinals, then handled North Fayette, West Union 3-1 in Thursday's semifinals, before overcoming a controversial fourth inning to nick the talented Assumption Knights 5-4 in the finals here Saturday.
Ruehle did not disappoint against the potent Knights' line-up as Cherokee carried a 4-1 lead into the fourth inning with Ruehle quieting the explosive Knights who had won both their state tourney games by impressive 13-3 and 12-5 margins.
However a pair of back-to-back umpire base running calls going against the Braves in the top of the fourth inning rattled the entire Cherokee club and forced veteran coach Scott Koch to summon his hard-throwing sophomore son Matt Koch to get the Braves out of a serious jam after Assumption pulled to within a 4-3 deficit. One hit batter later, Assumption tied the game at 4-4 after four.
Perhaps Cherokee's biggest run of the season then ocurred after freshman Cody Ege enticed a walk, advanced to second on a fielding error by the pitcher, and then scored on a Tyler Jones RBI single to give the Braves a 5-4 lead that Koch and company would hold on to, thanks to some sweet defensive plays by Cory Ege and shortstop, and Kyle Schuett in deep center field.
Koch got the pitching win, allowing one unearned run on three hits and two walks and one hit batter, with two strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. Ruehle pitched 3 1/3 innings and gave up one earned run on three hits and no walks, with two hit batters and one K.
For Assumption, a 28-14 team that plays in the ballyhooed Mississippi Athletic Conference full of 4A teams, relliever Jared McIntosh took the loss, allowing one run on four hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings, with two Ks. Willie Argo started the game for the Knights, and pitcvhed 3 1/3 frames, allowing four runs ono two hits and two walks, with one K. Anthony Miller relieved McIntosh and enticed Cherokee into a 1-6-3 double play in his 1/3 inning of work.
The Braves scored three in the third after Tyler Jones and Matt Koch walked, and Cory Ege stroked an RBI single. Mark Johnson then coaxed a walk and Koch scored on an RBI fielder's choice off the bat of Tim Jones. Ruehle then yanked a single to plate Ege.
The Braves tied the game at 1-1 in the second after Tim Jones singled, advanced to second on Ruehle's ground-out, went to third on a passed ball, and scored when the pitcher had a throwing error on Kyle Schuett's bunt.
Tyler Jones led the offense with a 2-3 night, an RBI, run scored, and two stolen bases. Koch was 1-3 with a run scored, Ruehle 2-3 with an RBI, Cory Ege 1-3 with a run scored and RBI, and Tim Jones 1-3 and an RBI and run scored.
"We're the first Cherokee team to win a state baseball title in history, so this is pretty special," said Scott Koch, coaching in his 14th year at the Braves helm after taking a hiatus for a few years.
"A big part of this game after that ugly fourth inning is that the kids hung together. They just keep coming together and grinding it out like they have all season. Cory is our rock and the guys rally around him, but each and every one accepted their roles and came together as a team to achieve this dream. It's very exciting and I'm sure it all will sink in in the next few days for all of us. We thank our fans for their incredible support all season long."
This was the Braves third consecutive trip to the state tourney, the team reaching the 2A semifinals in 2005, and losing in the quarterfinals in 3A last season.