New Franklin wanted desperately to stop the bleeding against the Cairo Bearcats in the semifinal round of the Class 1 State Tournament at TR Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon.
After consecutive losses against Cairo this spring 7-3 and 20-3, the Bulldogs felt this was their best chance to knock off the Bearcats and advance to their first title game since 1987.
Unfortunately for New Franklin, they will have to wait until next year after falling for the third time this season by a score of 12-6.
New Franklin coach Erich Gerding said his team gave Cairo way too much.
“We knew coming in that we couldn’t give them anything and we gave them too much,” Gerding said. “You can’t make six errors against anybody a lot of times, especially here and especially against Cairo. Same story, different day. The bottom-line is that we were not very good defensively. Matter of fact I would say we were bad.”
Gerding was also quick to point out that there is a reason these teams are good. He said there are hundreds of other schools out there that wished they had the opportunity to end their season with a win.
It just so happened that Cairo was a little better in this game while out-hitting New Franklin 12-8 and leaving only six runners on base. The Bearcats also had every player in the starting lineup with at least one hit in the game.
However the biggest surprise may have been the starting pitchers for the game. With senior Tyler Hull getting the starting nod for New Franklin after his 20 strike out performance in the quarterfinals against LaPlata, Cairo head coach Jeff Schleicher elected to start senior Tyler Kirkendoll over ace Brad Roberts.
Kirkendoll wound up getting the win over Hull, but Roberts did see a little time on the mound  before going back to his original spot at shortstop.
New Franklin and Cairo also traded punches early on in the ballgame. While the Bearcats threw the first punch thanks to a New Franklin error, Roberts made the Bulldogs pay dearly by swiping second and then scoring on a wild pitch to make it 1-0.
The Bulldogs responded, however, in their half of the inning with two runs on a one-out double to left-center by Hull to score Blake Carleton, who led off the inning with a walk. Alex Holem then brought in the second run with a fly out to center.
New Franklin never led again after that as Cairo came back and tied the game at 2-all with one run in the second on a hit batter and a RBI-single to right by Brandon Riley.
Meanwhile, after holding New Franklin scoreless in its half of the second, Cairo plated another run in the third, all with two outs, when Roberts was issued a walk and later scored on the RBI-single to center by Bobby Ballow to extend the lead to 3-2.
Although the Bearcats would break the game wide open in the sixth, New Franklin may very well have lost the game in the bottom-half of the third after putting the first-two runners on after a walk by Zach Evans and a double to right center by Blake Carleton. However, after getting Tanner White on a fly out to left, Kirkendoll intentionally walked Hull to load the bases. The move paid off as Kirkendoll struck out Holem to end the inning.
The fireworks for both teams came two innings later, with Cairo putting up three more runs in the fifth on a lead-off single up the middle by Kirkendoll, followed by a walk to Kory Rudkin and a RBI single to center by Roberts. The Bearcats also picked up a cheap run after Roberts somehow managed to stay in a rundown long enough for the runner to score. Then, to make it 6-2, Riley picked up his second hit of the game with a RBI-single to center.
Enter Roberts. With a four-run cushion going into the bottom-half of the fifth, Roberts could surely hold New Franklin in-check for three innings. Right? As it turned out, the Bulldogs lit up the right-handed hurler for three runs on one walk, an infield single by Carleton and a two-RBI triple to left-center by Hull to cut the lead to 6-4. Not done yet. With the sixth batter coming to the plate, Holem punched a RBI-single to left center to make it a one-run ballgame at 6-5.
But like all good ballteams, Cairo found a way to answer and this case may have also ruined any chance of a comeback by New Franklin by exploding for four more runs in the sixth on just three hits to go up 10-5.
The Bearcats would add two more runs in the seventh while New Franklin tacked on one run in the bottom-half of the inning to closeout the scoring.
As for the pitching, Kirkendoll pitched a total of 5 1/3 innings and gave up four runs on five hits and four walks while striking out two. Brad Roberts then came in and pitched 2/3 inning and allowed one run on two hits. Then, to closeout the game, Caleb Keen pitched one inning and surrendered one run on one hit and one walk.
For New Franklin, Hull took the loss and dropped to 6-3 on the season by giving up 10 runs, five earned, on nine hits and three walks while striking out two batters in 5 2/3 innings. Jerrod Riley then came in and pitched 1 1/3 innings and issued two runs on three hits while striking out one.
As for the hitting in the game for Cairo, Brandon Riley went 2-for-4 with a single, double and two RBIs. Tyler Kirkendoll was 2-for-5 with a single, double and one RBI while Seth Hess added two singles. Roberts, who got on base four out of five times, finished the game with one single and one RBI. He also walked once and stole two bases.
For New Franklin, who dropped to 20-5 after the loss, Hull went 2-for-2 with a double, triple and three RBIs. He also walked twice in the game.
Blake Carleton was 2-for-3 with a single and a double while Alex Holem added two singles and two RBIs, Jerrod Riley with one double and Dylan Johnson with one single.