Consistent pitching and strong defense were the biggest keys for a Cherokee Bluff baseball team that extended its winning streak to four games by beating East Hall 3-1 Friday afternoon at Coolray Field.
With the win, the Bears complete a season sweep over the Vikings — having beaten them two times already earlier in the week — and move to 3-0 in region games to start the year.
“I’m proud of us for the way we pitched, the way we played defense,” Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp said. “I don’t think we had any errors today. It was a good day. Pitching and defense win a lot of games.”
Earlier in the week, Kemp said playing at a larger than usual stadium would be a good test for many of the younger players on the team with less experience playing in big venues, and it was test every player seemed to pass with flying colors.
Freshman Chandler Shope pitched a complete game, allowing just six hits while striking out eight. It was a performance that Kemp said “set the tone for everything.” Shope said the prospect of playing at Coolray Field, the home of the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers, was not one that ever intimidated him.
“I’ve pitched in a pro stadium before a couple times, so it was nothing new to me,” he said after the game. “But it was exciting coming to this stadium, because I love the Braves and the Stripers, this organization.”
Cherokee Bluff struggled offensively for much of the game, but not immediately out of the gate.
After Dylan Kautz earned a leadoff walk and Jackson Kemp reached base on a grounder to the left side of the field, Parker Shope lined the first pitch he saw to shallow center field to bring Kautz home. Kemp scored a few batters later when Chandler Shope earned a bases-loaded walk.
Kemp’s sac fly in the second inning brought in Carsen Plumadore to make it 3-0, and that was all the scoring the Cherokee Bluff would do for the day.
Instead, the Bears relied on their defense, retiring nine of 11 batters between the second and fourth innings. Chandler Shope said the formula for keeping the East Hall offense quiet was a simple one.
“We just had to throw strikes, work low in the zone and make sure they don’t hit anything in the air,” he said. “Keep it on the ground and make plays. That’s all you have to do.”
And for the most part, that’s what Cherokee Bluff did.
East Hall’s Matt Lacey drove in a run with a single down the third base line in the bottom of the fifth inning to make it 3-1, but the hit ended up being the last the Vikings would produce for the remainder of the game. Shope struck out three over the final two innings as the Bears retired six straight East Hall batters to finish the game off.
“The Braves won a lot of games in the 90s relying on pitching and defense, and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hat on,” Kemp said. “Hitting is going to come and go, as it does for every good team.”