Chiefs rally past Cairo to get to Final Four again
Down to their last three outs, and visiting Cairo grabbing all of the momentum with a five-run outburst against all-state pitcher Andrew Curry, the situation looked bleak for the Santa Fe Chiefs in the Class 1 quarterfinal baseball game at Alma last Wednesday.
If the Chiefs were going to win and get to their second straight Final Four, they were going to have to put together a seventh-inning rally that would start with the bottom third of their lineup, which had produced only one walk in six plate appearances.
The never-say-die Chiefs put together a three-run rally on the strength of one hit and three Cairo errors.
That rally got Curry, who had been relieved for one pitch by Chad Tieman to get out of the bottom of the sixth, off the hook.
On came Keaton Graf to set down the Bearcats in order--two strikeouts and a fly out to left fielder Ben Hinz-- in the bottom of the seventh.
With one out in the top of the eighth, Hinz coaxed a walk from Tyler Kirkendoll, who was on the mound for a second stint in relief of starter Brad Roberts.
On Kirkendoll's first offering to Truman Sleeper, Hinz swiped second, getting into scoring position.
Sleeper eventually flied out to center for the second out.
Up strode Wyatt Wilkinson, arguably the hottest Chief hitter--one single in three trips, but the outs were a deep fly out to center to begin the game and a line drive the Bearcats' left fielder, Seth Hess, had to snare on a dive.
Wilkinson came through, lining a fastball to right-center field, Hinz racing around third to score the go-ahead run.
"The first pitch he threw me was a curve ball for a ball. The next pitch was a ball, so I knew he was going to come after me with a fastball," Wilkinson said. "I sat on it.
"I felt like I was seeing the ball really well today."
"We were thinking, 'Should we lay down a bunt with him?'" Fisher said. "He was pretty clutch for us."
Though Wilkinson was thrown out trying to steal second, the Chiefs had recaptured the momentum.
With Graf going back to the hill, there wasn't much mystery of what he was going to try to do--throw heat.
First, it was Todd Nelson striking out swinging. Then, Roberts fanned.
Caleb Keen was able to get his bat on the ball. But his weak bouncer down the first-base line was snagged by Curry, who beat Keen to the bag, ending the game.
Santa Fe 6, Cairo 5
"This should have been a state championship game," SFHS head coach Josh Fisher remarked.
"That's one thing about these boys: they never say die until the last out is made. And they proved it today."
The Chiefs got on the scoreboard first as Cole Wodrich ripped a Roberts' pitch over the left-center field fence leading off the second frame.
The Chiefs added one more run in the third inning on a wacky play.
Wilkinson singled, and Chad Tieman hit a ball that was booted by Aaron Barratt at shortstop with one out.
Curry hit a pop up at the edge of the outfield grass toward the third-base line. The wind, which wasn't much of a factor most of the day, played havoc with the ball, blowing it back into fair territory, where it fell out of the reach of Barratt.
While the ball was in the air, the third-base umpire yelled, "infield fly," which meant Curry was automatically out, and the runners could advance at their own risk--or they could stay put on their bases.
When the ball hit the dirt, it caused all kinds of confusion. Tieman raced toward second base, but Wilkinson didn't move.
The Bearcats threw the ball to first, but when Keen touched first base, that did nothing--there was no force out.
Wilkinson then broke for third, prompting a wild throw from Keen that went out of play. Wilkinson was awarded home and Tieman third.
The Chiefs made a bid to blow open the game in the top of the sixth.
Tieman started the frame by reaching base on an error. He swiped second base, and Curry was intentionally walked. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch by Roberts, who had returned to the mound after not pitching the fifth in favor of Kirkendoll.
Roberts settled down to fan Graf and Wodrich looking and Christian Boehmer swinging, shifting the momentum to the Bearcats.
Hess and Barratt poked back-to-back base hits to right field to start the Bearcats' sixth.
Nelson laid down a bunt. It was fielded on the run by SFHS third baseman Grant Boland. Boland's peg to first was wild, down the right-field line. When the play was over, the Bearcats had scored one run and had runners on second and third with no outs.
Roberts came through with a two-run single, and the Bearcats had the lead.
Roberts got around to third on the throw home, and he scored when Kory Rudkin laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt. It was 4-2.
The Bearcats added another run when Kirkendoll walked, stole second and scored when Craig Prather's short fly ball down the right-field line was perfectly placed between Graf (first baseman), Wilkinson (second baseman) and Sleeper (right fielder). The ball dropped for an RBI single.
That was the end of Curry's day on the mound.
On came Tieman to pitch and Graf to catch, Curry moving to first base.
On Tieman's first pitch to Stape Crutchfield, pinch-runner Leather Harris took off toward second. Graf threw a rocket to Wilkinson for the tag-out, ending the demoralizing inning.
Cairo managed five runs on five hits. The Chiefs had six runs on five hits. The Bearcats committed five errors and the Chiefs two. Santa Fe left seven runners on base and the Bear-cats two.
The Chiefs came up with the key at-bats in the seventh inning.
"We were trying to stay positive," Wilkinson said. "We came through. I think this is what a real championship team does."
Boland reached on an error to open the frame. Ben Reeders was a pinch-runner, and he raced to third on a ball hit by Hinz that was flubbed by Keen. Hinz swiped second base, and Sleeper drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.
Wilkinson laced a single to center, scoring Reeders and Hinz, the latter on a slide un-der the tag on the play at the plate.
Another error on a ball hit by Tieman loaded the bases again. But Curry's bouncer to second on a drawn-in infield led to the throw home, and Sleeper being out.
After Graf struck out for the fourth time in the game, Wodrich drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch to force home Wilkinson with the game-tying run.
Boehmer struck out to end the inning, but the momentum had shifted again.
Curry hurled 5-2/3 innings, allowing five runs on five hits, one walk and a hit batter and struck out nine.
"He (Curry) was throwing fine. They just caught on," Fisher said.
Tieman pitched one-third of an inning.
Graf came on to set down all six batters he faced, four via strikeouts, to earn the win.
Class 1 sectional
at Santa Fe 11, Northwest 1
The game was supposed to be hosted by the Mustangs the previous day but was postponed due to rain. It was first rescheduled for a park in Sedalia but was moved to Alma last week Tuesday because field conditions were better.
The Chiefs started slowly, Northwest grabbing a 1-0 lead with a run in the top of the third off of Graf, who had fanned the first six batters he had faced.
Ryan Rafferty reached on an error, advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on another passed ball. He scored on an infield ground-out by Quincy Wicker.
That was enough to get the Santa Fe engine ignited.
In the bottom of the third, the Chiefs sent 14 batters to the plate and scored all 11 of their runs.
With one out, Tieman drew a free pass. On the next pitch from Trey Green, Curry belted a two-run home run to give the Chiefs the lead for good.
Graf followed with a double. He scored on a base hit by Wodrich, who stole second.
Christian Boehmer's base hit put runners on the corners. Boehmer then swiped second.
After Boland popped out, Hinz's base hit plated Wodrich and Boehmer. Hinz stole second and scored on a single by Sleeper.
Wilkinson's base hit moved Sleeper around to third. Wilkinson pilfered second base, setting up Tieman's two-run single.
Curry kept the inning going with a double, and Graf ended the scoring with a three-run circuit blow.
Graf allowed only one base runner--a leadoff walk to Wyatt Payne in the fifth-- the rest of the way.
Graf finished with 12 strikeouts, including the side in the fourth.
Curry had a single in the first inning and Hinz a second-inning base hit for the other two safeties in the Chiefs' 12-hit attack.
The 12-3 Chiefs, making their fifth Final Four appearance in the last seven years, played 18-7 Dadeville in the semifinal round Tuesday afternoon at T. R. Hughes Ball Park in O'Fallon. The game was supposed to be played Monday, but it was postponed due to rain.
If the Chiefs beat Dadeville Tuesday, they will play for the state championship today at 1p.m.