Friday May 24th, 2024 10:11AM

Baseball: Bluff sweeps Seckinger for 1st-ever region title

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman

BUFORD Ga. — The key moment of the 2024 season for Cherokee Bluff can easily be traced back to a pair of rough losses to East Forsyth to drop the Bears into second place in the rugged Region 8-4A North subregion.

“(Senior) Ty Corbin lit into us a little bit and said we needed to get it going,” junior KT Thompson said. 

The Bears are 8-0 since including a pair of sweeps over North Hall and Chestatee to win the subregion. It culminated on Tuesday with an impressive two-game sweep of South subregion winner Seckinger -- 11-6 and 7-3 -- to capture the program’s first-ever region title and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class 4A playoffs.

“I’m just so proud of our guys,” said Bears head coach Jeremy Kemp, who came over from Gainesville to start the program. “Everyone of them fought their tails off to get here. Just an amazing feeling.

“We came into an unbelievable region with two teams that had won four titles in recent years (North Hall and North Oconee). When you get to play against the best, you definitely learn your flaws and work on them. To win an 11-team region is amazing.”

The Bears (24-4) had finished second three consecutive seasons, including losing a gut-wrenching three-game series to eventual state champion North Oconee in 2023. Thompson said they hadn’t forgotten.

“We got hot down the stretch and (Ty’s speech) had a lot to do with it,” Thompson said. “Losing that series last year has been on our minds for a while. We were fighting to get back here. 

“We wanted this. The seniors have done a great job of building this program. It’s an awesome feeling.”

In an offense that is averaging over 9 runs/game, Thompson has been the driving force of late. He was 5-of-7 with a pair of triples and a double and drove in six runs in the series. But he said he is just one of several potent pieces of firepower.

“This roster and lineup is so deep. We have so many guys that can play. I think we’re the best hitting team in the state,” Thompson said. ”When we get back in the dugout, we’re ready to score. That’s always our mentality.”

“That’s definitely our mentality,” Kemp said. “Even looking at the outs we made. They were tough outs that were productive. Just super proud of everyone and how much they battled.”

Senior catcher Caleb Miele was a prime example. Miele was just 2-for-8 overall but knocked in four runs, two coming on groundouts and another on a sacrifice fly with runners at third.

For the series, Bluff batters went a blistering 9-of-22 with runners in scoring position with 15 RBI. Seckinger, meanwhile, was just 5-of-17 with RISP for just 4 RBI in the two games.

Senior Jacob Vokal, after a shaky start to Game 2, settled down to go six innings surrendering just five hits while fanning six. Jack Sparks came on to pitch the seventh, allowing just one hit with one strikeout for the save and put the stamp on the region title.


Game 1: Bluff 11, Seckinger 6

Bluff jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first when Thompson tripled off the glove of the Jaguars right fielder and then scored on a RBI groundout from Miele.

Seckinger got a leadoff single in the first from Jin Kasuya, but he was later gunned down trying to advance to third on a grounder from Caleb Fleitz as the inning fizzled out. That would be the theme for the Jaguars.

The Bears broke it open in the second, rapping out four hits, including a two-run, bases-loaded double from Thompson, to take a 6-0 lead. But the Jaguars began to chip away.

Seckinger scored once in the second on a wild pitch and added three more in the third on two hits and a big Bluff error. But the Jaguars also stranded a pair of runners in scoring position. Seckinger was just 1-for-7 with RISP through the first three innings.

But Bluff answered right back with three runs in the top of the fourth on five hits, the big blow a two-run, two-out single from Vokal. In the fifth, Thompson added his fourth hit and third and fourth RBI with his second triple to extend the lead to 11-4. The Bears were 5-of-13 with RISP with 8 RBI through the fifth inning.

Meanwhile, after the Jaguars uprising in the third, Gabe Gowder came on in relief of starter Tucker Holton. The junior southpaw settled down things on the mound for the Bears, retiring 8 of the first 10 batters he faced while the offense went to work.

Seckinger inched closer in the sixth, getting a pair of runs to get within 11-6 and loading the bases with one out against Gowder. But Logan Robinson, who came on in the middle of the jam, got Maverick Torres to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to get out the inning for Bluff.

Robinson then got the Jaguars quickly in order to preserve the opening-game win in the seventh.

 Game 2: Bluff 7, Seckinger 3

The Jaguars struck first with an unearned run in the first as Vokal ran into trouble. But he got out of a bases-loaded jam to keep it a 1-0 deficit.

\Corbin then tied it up for the Bears with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the first. Vokal doubled with two out, but they could not bring him in.

In the second, Seckinger had another opportunity to break it open but stranded two more RISP, giving them four in the first two innings alone.

In the third, the Bears took advantage of three hits, three walks, and four stolen bases to extend their lead to 6-1. Seckinger trimmed the lead to 6-3 in the fourth on a RBI double from Jojo Montgomery, but Bluff answered back with another RBI from Thompson, his sixth of the series, for a 7-3 lead.

From there, Vokal and Sparks did the rest.

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