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Struck Strikes Out: State Champs! How sweet the sound

Monday, August 6, 2007

As if the Cherokee Braves winning the Class 2A State Baseball Championship for the first time in school history isn't enough, we'd be remiss if we didn't all stand back to cherish the classy, stylish way in which they did it.

From head coach Scott Koch and assistants Steve Sonka and Jared Koch and their team, to athletic director Neil Phipps and the faithful Cherokee Athletic Boosters, to the hundreds of loyal fans comprising the huge crowds that followed the Braves all season, we say, nobody could possibly have done it better.

With the probable exception of a few Green Wienies, Cherokee had the support and heard the cheers of all of Northwest Iowa as they carried the banner from this corner of the state to our Capitol City.

Playing every inning with class, a modest and quiet confidence, and unmatched team unity, this batch of Braves proved time and again that integrity and passion still drive the engine to success in our Grand Olde Game.

This was a season of firsts for the Braves - their first baseball state title ever, their first three-peat to state, their first 30-win season (31-2), and their first #1state rating they held most of the season,

Personally, I've played a lot of baseball in my life, including Little League age 6-12, Babe Ruth ages 13-15, Junior Legion ages 15-18, spring and fall ball all four years in high school, plus a couple seasons in college. I've done or seen it all.

But the way the 2007 State Champion Braves played the game, with their unrivaled resolve of refusing to lose even when it could get no bleaker and all the forces were seemingly against them, has left an indelible mark on this crusty old sportswriter.

A noticeable baseball first for me this season were the goose bumps I got in the title game when Cory Ege went into the hole at shortstop to catch a smoking ground ball and pulled a "Jeter" with a perfect jump throw to little brother Cody at first base that all but killed the will of revered defending state champs Davenport Assumption. You rarely see plays of that caliber in the Majors.

And I haven't had goose bumps since parking in the cemetery with my high school sweetie back in the 60s.

The caliber of teams the Braves beat this season must also be emphasized. Winning the rugged Lakes Conference over teams like Spencer, Le Mars, Storm Lake, and Emmetsburg is no small feat any year, but then to take on and defeat tradition-rich baseball teams like Sioux Central, Maple Valley/Anthon-Oto, Fort Dodge St. Edmonds, Carroll Kuemper, Bondurant-Farrar, North Fayette West Union, and Davenport Assumption on the biggest of stages only boosts the Braves' bar higher and higher.

Thanks to some impressive behind-the-scenes work by a savvy band of Boosters, the Braves traveled in high style in an air-conditioned chartered bus to Des Moines for the semifinal and final games last week. They also stayed in some nice digs and experienced some great dining - a classy outing for a classy team.

I sat next to IHSAA executive director Rick Wulkow the final three innings of Cherokee's title game against Assumption. He told me how impressed he was with the Braves, their coaches, and "almost all" of their fans.

"You easily have had the biggest crowds down here in any class," he said as he surveyed the throng of yellow shirts standing and cheering the Braves as Matt Koch was shutting down Assumption in the final inning.

I could tell Rick was very pleased that Cherokee was about to snag its first baseball title in school history.

I could tell Rick was very happy for veteran Cherokee coaches Scott Koch and Steve Sonka, two well-respected gentlemen who insist our kids play the game the right way and who regularly play to rave reviews from the umpires' game reports sent to the IHSAA.

And I could tell Rick was happy for me, an old Buena Vista College friend, whose job gets one hell of a lot easier when the teams I cover achieve such excellence on the high road.

So, here's to you Cory Ege, Michael and Matthew Boothby, Kyle Ruehle, Mark Johnson, Tim Jones, Scott Brown, Dillon Moye, Tyler Jones, Matt Koch, Kyle Schuett, Brandon Henke, Philip Bieber, Tony Hunt, Nathan Carlson, Philip Schulenberg, Keaton Tuttle, Cody Ege, Matt Pitts, and Kyle Schuck - You made history for your beloved school and community.

We're from Cherokee and we couldn't be any prouder!

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