By Jeremy McDonald
KEIZER, Ore.– With how strong the arms of Ethan Kleinschmit and Andrew Cuff were this year, you had a feeling that Kennedy would be in good hands going into the 2A/1A State Championship Game Friday night at Volcanoes Stadium against Umpqua Valley Christian.
Cuff got the starting nod in the final game of the season, his offense giving him a 3-0 lead to work into the bottom of the first inning. Surrendering a lead-off single before striking out two of the next three batters and forcing a ground out in between.
The nerves were there. After being a part of the 2A/1A team that finished second in 2021, falling to Glide in the Cumulative Week State Championship Game, but Cuff and his Men were ready for the challenge with the rainy skies that were around them at Volcanoes. For Cuff, he remembers all the work that he put in to help him become the pitcher that he had become at this point of his prep career.
“Just bullpens after practice was pretty much good. Just worked on a lot of off-speed (stuff). My off-speed wasn’t really good at the start of the year, but I worked on my curveball and my change up. Me and Ethan have really been lights out this year.”
Cuff spoke highly of Kleinschmit, who was probably the ace of the Trojan staff this season, with Cuff giving his fellow junior kuddos for how efficient and dominant he was when his number was called on.
Cuff had set up Kleinschmits dagger to close out the 11-1, sixth-inning State Championship Win. Kennedy’s first since 2012 after back-to-back State Runner-Up finishes in 2019 and this past Spring. But the weather did present a challenge with how slippery the mound got and how much work it took to keep cleats clean in-game.
“It was definitely hard. The mound was really slippery, but just calming myself down and taking a deep breath before the next pitch. Knowing that I have confidence in my defense that can make any play and that was really good,” Cuff described “Taking those times (to clean my cleats)…it’s really hard when it’s really slippery. Everytime I called time to clean the cleats off, I just had to calm myself and take a deep breath. I had to get it done.”
It came down to who played the best in the weather. It took a while for the Kennedy bats to come, but they used four Monarch errors to take a 6-0 lead going into the bottom half of the third inning of the game. Yes UVC got one back in the bottom half of the third inning, but the Trojan defense settled back down as they got the run back the next inning.
“Having zero errors in a State Playoff game is unbelievable. Our defense is just outstanding. Any ball that got to the outfield, we got a guy there. We were making clutch plays, double plays and finding some way to get out. Our defense has been really, really good,” Cuff said.
Slowly the bats came around. Kleinschmit and Charlie Beyer each had two hits each. Cuff contributed 2RBI’s and Matt Hopkins ripped 4RBI’s to help the junior-heavy team take home the State Title.
“We’re losing Riley (Cantu), one of our starters. Riley has been a really good athlete all throughout the years. He’s been really good, but losing him will be kind of hard. We just have to step up with us juniors,” said Cuff. “We have eight juniors that are starting and we have sophomores coming in. So a senior-heavy team will be really good for us.”
For Cantu, he was taking it all in. He was a freshman on that team that lost to the Monarchs in extras as a freshman and remembers the pain of last year of losing to the Wildcats. So this moment, his last game in a Trojan uniform, to go out on top was undescribable.
“It’s…I can’t describe it,” Cantu said speechless. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to do it. With Covid and everything we’ve dealt with, to get this with my senior year. It’s special. I can’t describe it at all. (The returners for next year) have learned a lot over the season and I think that they’re going to continue that and move the program into the right direction.
“It’s a good group of guys and I’m going to miss them.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald