Cherokee Bluff came up just short in a game of inches Monday.
Tied in the eighth inning, the Bears (28-5) were still grasping at a chance to keep its season alive against a scrappy Lovett in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs in Atlanta.
However, Lions right-handed leadoff hitter Joel Lopez got just enough of a two-strike pitch for an opposite-field homer that managed to creep over the 315 marker on the right-field wall for a 6-5 win in Atlanta.
The series was stretched to three games after a split Saturday to open the series.
The Bears lost the opener 16-6, then rallied to win the nightcap 7-6.
And facing elimination, Cherokee Bluff came out swinging in Game 3.
Cherokee Bluff plated three runs in the first inning after three batters were hit by a pitch, then added on a single run in the third and fourth inning to go ahead 5-0.
However, the lead didn’t stick.
The Bears made four costly mistakes in the bottom of the fourth inning (two fielding errors and two on bad throws) that led the Lions to putting four runs on the board.
Then, fifth-ranked Lovett (25-6) added on the equalizing run in the sixth inning with Joe Crenshaw’s RBI single right up the middle.
With the loss, Cherokee Bluff’s season is now finished, after being ranked No. 1 in the state the majority of the season.
However, Lovett managed to come out on top of a series that seemed destined for extra innings after big swings in momentum early, then a tense final few innings with fans for both sides hanging on to every pitch.
“Lovett was a really good team,” Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp said. “I felt like we played well in this series, we were just hitting it right at them.”
In particular, Kemp is referring to the top of the sixth inning.
Leading 5-4, Cherokee Bluff sent two fly balls to the deepest part of center field for outs just shy of the fence.
With one out, Bears senior Bryce England sent one to the fence that Lovett center fielder Michael Mitchell jumped for and came down with it below the top of the wall.
An inning earlier, Cherokee Bluff had a runner at second with one out when third baseman Jacob Vokal sent one just shy of a wall for the second out, then Ty Corbin hit a rope right to third base for the final out of the inning.
“We had six, seven, eight barrels that we hit right to people tonight,” Kemp said.
Then in the bottom half of the fifth inning, Bears reliever Brady Stephens got into a jam with runners on the corners and no outs, but drew three straight grounders (two back to the mound) to get out of the inning without any damage.
Cherokee Bluff had a chance at a go-ahead run in the seventh inning when sophomore first baseman KT Thompson drilled a lead-off single up through the middle, between the feet of the pitcher who was turning to field the ball.
However, Thompson was tagged out at the plate for the second out when he committed to trying to score from third base on a grounder to third.
Early in the game, the Bears looked poised for a big game that wouldn’t have any late-inning theatrics.
In the first inning, Vokal, Caleb Miele and England all reached base when they were hit by a pitch.
The Bears cashed in with a two-run single from Brett House, then an RBI single by Thompson.
Then in the third inning with the bases loaded, Cherokee Bluff second baseman Landon Kemp connected on a bases-loaded bloop single to score England.
In the fourth inning, the Bears would add on their final run with House’s hard-hit single over third base.