In retrospect, perhaps the first two innings were a precursor to what followed, as the Braves collected four base hits in those first two frames, but were unable to score any runs. So going into the fourth, the game was knotted up at 0-0, as the Braves' senior lefty, Cody Ege, and the Knights' freshman righty, Chris Halbur, dueled in a fast-moving contest.
Kuemper threatened in the first, as Cody Williams doubled to the fence to lead off the frame. Ege struck out the Knights' third place and cleanup hitters back-to-back, though, to keep Williams on the basepaths.
Kuemper's shortstop made a fine play on Zac Woods at second base for the Braves' final out in the second, and in the third, Kyle Schuck threw out a Kuemper runner attempting to steal second. Since the next batter doubled, Schuck's throw probably prevented a run from scoring. The senior backstop then got the third out as he handled a tap in front of the plate and nailed the batter at first.
The Knights scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Ege k'ed the leadoff hitter, but Schuck was unable to handle the pitch and the runner got on. He was then sacrificed to second, the first of several nice bunts executed by Kuemper, and driven in by a double to left field by catcher Bryce Berg.
The fifth inning started off in promising fashion for the Braves, as Adam Piits' hard drive off the pitchers' glove and Zac Woods' hard-hit drive which the shortstop had trouble handling, put two men on base for Cherokee with no one out. And then, in what may have been the play of the game, an attempted bunt by Matt Pitts was snagged in the air by pitcher Halbur, and the quick-thinking frosh turned it into that rarest of baseball feats - a triple play , 1- 1- 6- 3 in baseball scoring terms. Just like that, the Braves' threat was squelched. In the Knights' half inning, the first two batters made outs, but Cody Williams drew a walk, then stole second. When his teammate Kyle Pudenz smacked a triple, Williams scored easily and the Knights' adavntage moved to 2-0, with the Braves down to their final six outs.
Cherokee went down 1-2-3 in their half of the sixth, and that led to the bottom half. The lead-off hitter struck out, but Schuck was again unable to handle Ege's breaking pitch on the third strike and the runner went to first. The next batter bunted to Ege and he ran to first for the unassisted out, with the runner moving to second. The next batter then hit a hard grounder through first baseman Zac Woods' legs, and when Braves' right fielder Jakob Hummel unleashed a wild throw to the infield, the Knights scored their third run. Another successful sacrifice bunt moved the runner to third, but Cody Ege fanned the next batter for the third out, and the Braves escaped any further damage.
With the Braves' final at bat in the 7th inning, Braves' fans stood and tried to cheer their team to victory, but it was not meant to be on this occasion, as Curtis Ege and Brock Benson both struck out and Jakob Hummel popped up to the Knights' third baseman, ending the game. Kuemper moves on to Thursday night's semi-final game against second-seeded Davis County, which edged PCM of Monroe in Monday's night cap. Top seeded Solon will meet Columbus Waterloo in the other 2A semi.
Adam Pitts led Cherokee's hitters with two of the team's five hits, with Woods, Schuck and Cody Ege collecting the others. Kuemper also managed just five hits off of Ege, as the team's four errors contributed to the final outcome. The senior Ege fanned nine Kuemper hitters and walked one in his final appearance as a Brave, and he will join former Cherokee teammate Matt Koch on the University of Louisville's pitching staff next fall.
Cherokee Coach Scott Koch said the game epitomized the old baseball saying that the sport is a "game of inches," adding that, on Monday, "the inches just didn't go our way." Koch said he felt Ege pitched a great game, but the Braves just weren't able to get their bats going on Monday. He also said he was "very proud" of his team for overcoming the 'up and down' season they had and accomplishing the goal of reaching the State. He especially singled out his senior players for their leadership and effort down the stretch this season, and said that he felt the trip to Sate was a good way for them to finish their careers. Koch said Kuemper is a good team, played an excellent game and certainly deserved their win. He added that "you just can't have any mistakes when you get to the State," because of the quality of the competition there.
The Braves say goodbye to a stellar group of seniors, including Cody Ege, Matt Pitts, Kyle Schuck, Zac Woods, Brock Benson, Gordy Gill, Jon Hunt and Jeremy Werthman. The seniors leave a legacy of playing ball for a team that "made it to state" every year they were in high school. Coach Koch said he told the players who will be returning next season that they have a big goal as they try to keep the Braves' six-year streak of going to the State Tournament alive next season.
For more photos of the Braves game, see the 'Cherokee Braves at 2010 State Baseball Tournament' Photo Gallery.