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High school baseball: Top-ranked Cherokee Bluff makes East Forsyth strategy backfire in walk-off win
Cherokee Bluff players celebrate a walk-off, come-from-behind win against East Forsyth on March 29, 2023 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Bill Murphy

East Forsyth’s baseball coaches came up with a strategy they thought would give their team a chance to end Cherokee Bluff’s season-long winning streak.

And for most of the Region 8-4A game between the two teams Wednesday at Bluff Ball Park, that strategy – pitching around slugging right fielder Bryce England – was working well.

But after the visiting Broncos took a lead in extra innings, the Class 4A No. 1 state-ranked Bears finally made them pay.

After England was issued his fourth intentional walk of the day, Cherokee Bluff responded with three straight hits, including Landon Kemp’s two-run single that gave the Bears a 4-3 walk-off win in eight innings.

Ty Corbin (2-for-4, triple, SB) and Ethan England (2-for-3, 2 doubles) each had two hits on the day.

But with East Forsyth (12-8, 8-5 in region) so determined to make anybody but Bryce England, who had gone 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs and five RBIs in Monday’s game between the two teams, keep Cherokee Bluff (19-0, 10-0) undefeated, the Bears had to find other heroes.

They found enough of them, beginning with the hitter directly behind Bryce England in the batting order, Brett House, who had been retired in three previous at bats before coming up big to ignite the game-winning rally.

“I’m proud of our guys. We had a great night,” Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp said. “If you count Bryce’s intentional walk, that’s four great at bats in a row right there (in the bottom of the eighth).

“Brett’s hit awesome for us this year. He’s got six or seven home runs, (so) they’re not going to be able to continue to (pitch around him) and get away with it. We’re eventually going to get to them. We just didn’t make them pay until the end in this game.”

East Forsyth was able to get away with it much of the evening behind an inspired outing from left-handed starter Trey Farr (7-plus IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K), who matched Cherokee Bluff starter Brady Stephens (5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) in a big-time pitcher’s duel.

The Bears had twice taken leads of 1-0 on Garrett Harper’s RBI single in the second and 2-1 after Caleb Miele’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third that matched Will Moffit’s RBI ground out in the top of the inning.

But in the top of the sixth, the Broncos took advantage of a walk, Matthew Lyons’ sacrifice bunt and an error to pull even again at 2-all on Wyatt Barden’s RBI single, and threatened to take the lead.

However, Jacob Vokal came on in relief of Stephens, and after issuing a walk to load the bases, got Blake Riley to pop out in foul territory, and then induced a line-drive right at K.T. Thompson at first to keep the game tied.

Vokal then proceeded to strike out the side in the seventh, but Lyons put Cherokee Bluff’s winning streak in serious jeopardy as the game headed to extra innings.

The junior outfielder found a 3-2 pitch to his liking and launched it over the wall for a solo homer to lead off the top of the eighth to give East Forsyth a 3-2 lead.

However, Vokal rebounded to strike out the side again to keep the deficit at just one run, which was important with Bryce England due to lead off the bottom of the inning, and the Broncos content to put him on each time he came to the plate earlier in the game.

“Jacob Vokal, he’s a dog,” Jeremy Kemp said. “He gave up the home run, and then he came back and got the next three guys. He went right back at them. That’s why he’s in that role with the game on the line.”

Sure enough, Bryce England was issued another intentional pass to put the tying run on first with nobody out.

But this time, House made the Broncos pay by lining a shot inside the third base bag for a single to put the potential winning run on base, and both moved into scoring position when Thompson laid down a perfect bunt that wound up as an infield hit to load the bases.

With Farr reaching his pitch limit, the sophomore was left in to pitch to the left-handed hitting Landon Kemp, who had drawn a walk in three plate appearances, but struggled with the lefty-lefty matchup most of the night.

After looking for, and missing, Farr’s curveball on the first pitch, the younger Kemp was through guessing.

“I was sitting curveball because he’d been throwing me a first-pitch curveball all night,” Landon Kemp said. “I just knew I had to fight through (the at bat), and he finally gave me my pitch to hit.”

And Kemp did just that, lining a 2-2 pitch up the middle and into center field for a hit that brought home Bryce England, with pinch-runner Tanaka Mukono following him and sliding under the high throw to the plate to give the Bears the walk-off win.

They also clinched the week-long series regardless of the outcome of Friday’s finale at East Forsyth.

“A sloppy win is the best win. That’s what they say,” Landon Kemp said. “We battled, (East Forsyth) battled. We just came out with the win.”

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