By Rocky Higginbotham

Kemper County Messenger

Kemper Academy had quite the memorable baseball season, winning what some believe is the first district championship in school history.

The Rams also earned their first playoff win in recent memory and finished with the most wins in more than a decade. But the season came to a halt last week, when KA bowed out in a state quarterfinal series against DeSoto (Ark.) School.

Kemper ventured to West Helena, Ark., last Tuesday for Game 1 of its best-of-three series with DeSoto -- and the Rams were one-hit in a disappointing, 2-0 loss.

On Thursday, in a driving rainstorm at times and with dipping temperatures, Kemper held on for an 11-10 in the second game of the series to force the if-necessary third game -- which KA lost, 14-3.

"We just didn't play well enough to win," Kemper coach Tony Cawthorn said of his squad, which entered the postseason having won 12 of its last 13 games and finished the year with a 16-6 record.

"We put ourselves in a bad hole by losing that first game and then we were short on pitching and just couldn't get it done."

Kemper wasted a solid effort from sophomore standout Gabe Sciple in the series opener. Sciple went five innings and gave up six hits -- but most of them after innings had been extended by an error. He allowed only one run and struck out eight.

But DeSoto pitchers Joseph Jaco and Austin Johnston combined to strike out 10 Rams and allow only three baserunners.

Chase Cawthorn had the team's only hit; Brooks McDade was hit by a pitch; and Dalton Sanderford received a walk.

In the second game of the series Thursday afternoon in DeKalb, the visiting Thunderbirds scored three times in the top of the first.

But Kemper answered back with a three-run homer form McDade in the bottom of the inning, and the offensive funk was over.

KA banged out 15 base hits in that contest, building an 11-6 lead entering the seventh inning.

There, DeSoto got within 11-10 and had the tying and go-ahead runs on base before a nice defensive play from Sciple helped reliever Tanner Owen snuff out the rally.

Trent Lightner was 3-for-4 with three runs scored and McDade finished with two hits and three RBIs to lead KA.

Josh Mitchell was 2-for-4 with a solo homer; Sanderford was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI; Cawthorn was 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs; Owen had two hits; Jordan Higginbotham had one hit and two runs scored; and Logan Christopher had one hit and one run.

Logan Christopher was also the winning pitcher, going five innings and giving up six hits and five earned runs. Owen finished for the save.

In the third game Thursday night, Kemper was down 9-1 after two innings and could never get going offensively.

Only three players had hits: Lightner was 3-for-3 with a run and an RBI; McDade was 1-for-1 before leaving with an injury; and Higginbotham was 1-for-2. Sanderford and Jack Christopher each scored.

Mitchell, the first of three KA pitchers, took the loss.

Frasier Palmer hit a grand-slam homer and finished with five RBIs and Jaco singled, doubled and scored four times to lead DeSoto. Jaco was also the winning pitcher.