Cherokee Bluff's Dylan Kautz approached the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning of Wednesday evening’s game against White County with one thought on his mind.
“I just went up there trying to hit a bomb, honestly,” he said.
Kautz needed just one swing to send the ball sailing over the right field wall for a grand slam, sending the Bears home with a 15-0 win by run rule. Kautz flipped his bat triumphantly as he watched the hit that officially ended a four-game losing streak for the Bears and evened their series against the Warriors at 1-1, following a 5-1 defeat on Monday.
With Cherokee Bluff (16-9, 8-6 Region 7-3A) and White County (17-8, 12-5) grappling for seeding in the competitive Region 7-3A, Friday’s decisive Game 3 could have major playoff implications, potentially even making the difference in earning home field advantage for the first round of the state tournament.
Kautz said the way the Bears played on Wednesday should give Cherokee Bluff all the momentum going into the final contest of the series.
“I think this is going to help us a lot with our confidence,” he said. “Everyone was hitting tonight.”
All nine Cherokee Bluff starters reached base at least once in the win, with eight of them recording at least one hit and seven contributing one or more RBIs. Kautz led the way offensively with his four RBIs, while Caleb Piland and Brody Beal had three each. Ben Jenkins had two RBIs and Caleb Miele, Ty Corbin and Bryce England all drove in a run. Kautz also started the game for the Bears on the mound, pitching four shutout innings and striking out three White County batters.
“(Kautz) is an absolute joy to coach,” Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp said. “I love him. He’s a competitor. He’s a fun person to coach. I’m so proud of him.”
The Bears wasted no time in getting things started offensively, pouring on six runs in the bottom of the first inning off a number of early hits off of Warriors starter Nate Bray, as Piland, Miele, Beal and Corbin’s four consecutive hits shot Cherokee Bluff immediately out in front.
The Bears added another run in the third inning, and put the finishing touches on the game in the fourth.
Jenkins got things started with a triple down the right field line that scored two runs and put Cherokee Bluff up by nine runs. Hits from England and Piland made it 11-0, and Beal walk and Corbin single loaded the bases to set up Kautz for his walkoff grand slam.
The Bears will go back to Cleveland on Friday evening to finish the series against White County. Kemp said with one day of preparation left between now and the deciding game of the series, Cherokee Bluff would be focusing on sticking to the fundamentals and staying level and focused following Wednesday’s big win.
“We talked and spent a lot of time yesterday and talking about little things and approaches at the plate,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll pay off. I think it paid off tonight, and maybe it’ll pay off the rest of the way. We’ll see. Definitely don’t want to get too high. It’s just a win.”