Cairo crushes Chiefs, 11-1

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

CAIRO-- The young Santa Fe baseball team's dream of a third straight trip to the MSHSAA Class 1 Championships ran smack dab into cold reality Wednesday.

After winning 11 pre-state playoff games in a row, the eighth-ranked Chiefs were easily handled by No. 2 Cairo during an 11-1 road loss in the quarterfinal round. It was the largest post-season margin of defeat for Santa Fe since losing the 2007 third-place game to Valle Catholic of Ste. Genevieve, 12-1.

"We faced a darned good ball team," remarked Chiefs head coach Josh Fisher. "Give them credit."

The Bearcats got a strong performance on the mound from senior right-hander Brad Roberts, who has signed with NCAA Division II member Northwest Missouri State. He went the distance, allowing three hits and no earned runs while striking out 13 batters.

"He threw strikes and had great command of his curve," Fisher noted. "We just couldn't do anything with it."

Meanwhile, Santa Fe senior Keaton Graf struggled with location, issuing seven walks and throwing six wild pitches in four innings of work. Part of his problem may have been a mismatch between Graf's style and the strike zone of plate umpire George Wright.

"We're used to getting the low pitch, and he wasn't calling it," Fisher explained. "Keaton was working the outside corners like we scouted, and he wouldn't call it."

Still, Graf held Cairo off the board until a lead-off walk to sophomore Seth Hess, two stolen bases and junior Caleb Keen's infield single broke the ice in the top of the third inning.

The Bearcats extended the margin in the fourth, which started with a walk to senior Drennan Mollick and an error. Two wild pitches let one run score and put another run on third base, where he came in on Hess' bloop single into center field.

Hess swiped another bag and crossed the plate on senior Kory Rudkin's bunt single to make it 4-0, a substantial advantage for a Cairo club which hadn't allowed an opponent to score more than three runs in its previous 15 games.

A dropped third strike put freshman Alex Smith on base to begin the bottom of the fourth, Graf's single to left field plating him after a grounder and wild pitch, but the Chiefs were unable to rally.

Sophomore Ben Hinz relieved Graf in the fifth, but he wasn't the answer. After stranding two runners in that frame, the 'Cats banged out seven hits in the next one, opening with senior Tyler Kirkendoll's double.

Rudkin singled in a run and Roberts followed with a base hit, a double-steal putting both in position to score on junior Brandon Riley's single. Sophomore Alex Leathers greeted sophomore reliever Payton Wright with an RBI single and Cairo's sixth run of the rally crossed on an error.

"They're used to a pitcher like [Roberts] throwing B[atting] P[ractice], so of course they're going to hit the dang ball," Fisher said. "They were able to pin it down and we weren't able to make the plays."

Roberts doubled and scored on Keen's single in the seventh to cap the 'Cats' offensive performance.

Cairo (17-2) will appear in the Final Four for only the second time, losing the third-place game to Thayer, 4-0, in 2005.

The Bearcats will play Wednesday at O'Fallon against CAC rival New Franklin, which scored 13 runs in the top of the 12th inning for a 14-1 victory at LaPlata. Cairo has won both meetings with the Bulldogs this season.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs (14-9) go home after two back-to-back state finals, claiming their second title in 2012. However, with only one senior and two starters remaining from that championship squad, Santa Fe had a nice run during a transitional campaign.

"We knew it was going to be a rebuilding period for us," Fisher admitted. "The boys stepped up and played this year. I can't say enough about them."

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