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High school baseball: Patience pays off for No. 1 Cherokee Bluff in region win over East Hall
Cherokee Bluff's Brett House (10) taps helmets after his home run with KT Thompson against East Hall on March 20, 2023 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Bill Murphy

Patience was a necessity for Cherokee Bluff in the first game of their Region 8-4A three-game series with East Hall.

And the top-ranked Bears (15-0, 6-0 Region 8-4A) showed enough of it to make the necessary adjustments at the plate and complement a strong game on the mound and in the field to pull away for a 10-0 victory in five innings Monday at Cherokee Bluff.

Landon Kemp had a big day a the plate by going 2-for-2 with a triple and three RBIs, while Brett House went 2-for-3 with a solo home run as the Bears finished with 11 hits as a team on the day, which was enough to support the pitching of Braxton Beal, who allowed just three hits and struck out eight over five scoreless innings

Seven of those hits came in the final two innings after the Bears had to wait out and find their comfort zone at the plate against the wide array of off-speed breaking pitches from East Hall (4-12, 1-8) starter Drew Campbell.

“(Campbell) kept us off-balance. He did a good job,” Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp said. “We didn’t make adjustments early. That’s part of this game, you’ve got to make adjustments. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it, for sure.”

One of the few Bears who did make an early adjustment early on was House, who belted his third homer in as many games to lead off the bottom of the second for a 1-0 lead.

But Jacob Vokal’s double to lead off the game was the only other hit Cherokee Bluff had through the first time through the order.

It wasn’t until there were two outs and a runner on in the bottom of the third before the Bears finally started to find their timing against the Vikings’ right-hander.

K.T. Thompson laid a perfect bunt down the third base line and extended the inning with an infield single.

Landon Kemp then came to the plate and sent a sharp grounder just inside the first base bag and into the corner for extra bases.

The ball then took a sharp bounce off the corner of the wall, allowing both runners to come home and Kemp to chug into third with a two-run triple.

Another run came home on an error, and when the inning finally ended, the Cherokee Bluff lead had extended to 4-0.

Still, even after the Bears added on with Bryce England’s RBI double to make it 5-0 after four, East Hall was still very much in the game.

After being shut down by Beal on just one hit and a walk with all eight of his strikeouts through the first four innings, the Vikings began to get better looks at the Georgia Southern-bound right-hander in the top of the fifth.

Levi Kinney legged out an infield single and went to second on a pinch-hit walk by Haden Brock one out later.

Caleb Pruitt then steered a single through the hole between third and short that looked like it was going to get East Hall on the board.

But House came up firing in left field with a bullet of a throw that made it to the plate in plenty of time to gun down Kinney at the plate for the second out of the inning.

Catcher Caleb Miele then immediately fired to third to catch Brock in a rundown that the Bears eventually completed after two throws to end the inning with the shutout intact.

“I told my guys that one was on me,” East Hall coach Zeb Lackey said. “I should’ve held (Kinney) at third. We’re station-to-station right there, and I got a little aggressive. … I should’ve held him there with one out.

“But I was really impressed. I thought each at bat, I felt like most of our guys got better in their second and third at bats. So I’m proud of them.”

With Campbell’s pitch count having risen rapidly over the previous four innings, the Vikings were forced to go to their bullpen, and it didn’t take long for Cherokee Bluff to get more aggressive.

Thompson drew a lead-off walk and promptly stole second before coming home on Landon Kemp’s third RBI of the day on a single to push the lead to 6-0.

After the younger Kemp stole second, he took off for third as Ethan England laced a liner that fell into the gap and was able to trot home.

Then when two East Hall outfielders miscommunicated to allow the ball to roll to the wall, the younger England kept motoring all the way around the bases and slid home safely for a two-run, inside-the-park homer to extend the lead to 8-0.

That development prompted another pitching change, but the results weren’t any better for the Vikings, as Garrett Harper singled and Vokal was hit by a pitch, with both runners moving up on a wild pitch.

Ty Corbin then drove in another run with a ground out to second, and Miele drove in another with a sacrifice fly to allow Cherokee Buff to walk off with the run-rule win.

Carter Gillespie had the only other hit on the day for the Vikings, who will host the Bears as the series continues Wednesday at 5:55 p.m. at East Hall.

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