"One swing of the bat can change a lot of things."
Sioux Central head coach Jeff Scharn summed up Monday night's Class 2A District 3 Quarterfinal perfectly less than an hour after one swing changed the entire complexion of his team's postseason opener against No. 1 Cherokee.
The Braves very nearly became the first upset victim of the 2007 postseason at the hands of Scharn's Rebels, but with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning, left-handed hitting sophomore Matt Koch came to the rescue for Cherokee, depositing the first pitch he saw over the right field fence, propelling the top-ranked Braves past Sioux Central 8-5 and into Wednesday night's district semifinal.
"We almost brought the lefty in to face (Koch), the only thing is, John (Westcott) had controlled him all night long and he didn't look good swinging the bat against him," Scharn said. "I even took two steps out of the dugout and was like, 'No, let's wait.' I can second guess myself all night long, too.
"The main thing is the kids played hard. We battled back," Scharn added. "They're good. They're a good baseball team. We put a little pressure on them."
After falling in a 3-0 hole after the first two innings, the Rebels had taken control of what proved to be a back-and-forth contest just one inning before Koch's grand slam.
Sioux Central scored all five of its runs in the top of the fourth on two hits and a pair of Cherokee errors. Justin Ferguson was hit by a pitch to start the rally, Colin Hogrefe reached on an error and Kenny Frye put the Rebels on the board one batter later, driving home courtesy runner Mike Ripke with a single to right.
The Rebels cut their deficit to 3-2 on the Braves' second error of the inning on a ground ball off the bat of Mark Saunders.
Two batters later, Trevor Tiefenthaler put Sioux Central on top 4-3 with a bases loaded, 2-RBI single up the middle.
Tiefenthaler used his speed to help Sioux Central extend its lead to 5-3. Standing on third base with two outs, Tiefenthaler timed Cherokee catcher Tyler Jones' throw back to pitcher Kyle Ruehle, took a large lead off third and stole home when Jones failed to look him back.
"The inning before he had asked. He said, 'The catcher's not even checking me.' I told him to test it out, test how far you can get down there. But we did not even talk about it that inning. It was all him - that was nothing with the coach there. That was all just a good, solid athlete," Scharn said of Tiefenthaler's fourth-inning steal.
Cherokee scored one run in the opening inning on two Sioux Central errors. The Braves went on top 3-0 in the bottom of the second, scoring two runs on three hits, including an RBI single from Michael Boothby and a sacrifice fly from Jones.
"Once we settled down, we started making the plays, too ... I was pretty pleased with our defense," Scharn said.
The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth inning on three hits. Tim Jones and Ruehle led off the inning with singles; Boothby loaded the bases on a 2-out, infield hit. Tyler Jones was hit by a pitch to drive in the Braves' fourth run ahead of Koch's grand slam.
Koch pitched the final 3 1/3 innings in relief. The hard-throwing right-hander picked up the win, holding Sioux Central scoreless on three hits. He walked none and struck out five.
"He was throwing 91 (mph), they said; he was definitely up there," Scharn said of Koch. "If we'd have had one more inning - he was already slowed down to 84 that last inning. That's when you have to start taking a few pitches on him early in the count."
Ruehle gave up five runs on two hits in 3 2/3 innings of work. He walked three, hit three more and struck out five in a no-decision.
John Westcott was saddled with the loss, going 5 2/3 for Sioux Central. Westcott allowed 12 hits, walked none and struck out three.
"He pitched great. Our plan coming in was to do two innings, three innings with him and come with somebody else and just sort of use a multiple number of guys and not them get used to any one guy," Scharn commented. "Johnny had 'em swinging at a lot of pitches in the dirt, their timing wasn't there, they couldn't really time him with the changeup and the curveball and the fastball.
"He's just a smart pitcher - he pitches, he doesn't throw," Scharn added of Westcott. "He doesn't throw very hard, but he really had 'em off balance the whole night."
Freshman Kole Erickson finished the final 1/3 of an inning for Sioux Central, inducing a fly out on the only batter he faced.
Sioux Central closes out the season with a 17-15 record. Cherokee advanced to Wednesday night's Class 2A District 3 Semifinal against Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto.
SIOUX CENTRAL STATS
Hits-Trevor Tiefenthaler 1, Tyler Walker 1, Justin Ferguson 1, Colin Hogrefe 1, Kenny Frye 1
RBIs-Tiefenthaler 2, Frye 1, Mark Saunders 1
Runs-Tiefenthaler 1, Mike Ripke 1, Hogrefe 1, Frye 1, Saunders 1