By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
OZARK - It all seemed to be going according to plan for Lafayette.
An early lead, strong defense and a terrific start from senior pitcher Brayden Luikart.
After Luikart reached his allotted pitch total, Kennett adjusted, settled in and went to work offensively in the seventh.
In an inning that lasted for 14 at-bats, the Indians (25-8) tallied nine runs on five walks, four hits, including a pair of three-run homers and a pair of hit batters.
The big inning allowed Kennett to erase a 4-2 deficit and defeat Lafayette 11-4 Wednesday in a Class 4 state semifinal game at US Baseball Park in Ozark.
After Luikart left the game due to pitch count, four different relievers tried to end the top of the seventh. Junior Cade King forced a flyout and a 6-4 double play with bases loaded to record the three outs and end what was a painfully long frame.
A tough half-inning, that was preceded by six solid innings from the Irish.
"We executed the game plan early," Lafayette coach Matt Jansen said. "Brayden was lights out. The defense had 'em. The energy was up. That's all you can ask for. I mean, obviously you want to close the game, but coming out, scoring runs early, putting pressure on them. And again, we're able to come back and get momentum. It speaks to the type of character we have. We have high character."
Luikart came out with his hair on fire, striking out the side in the top half of the first. Senior Dayne Koch led off the bottom half of the first with a walk, and he was brought home on an RBI single to right field by fellow senior Jayden Little, giving the Irish a 1-0 lead after one.
After another Luikart strikeout left two Kennett runners stranded in the second, Cade King led off the bottom half by getting hit by a pitch, and he scored on an RBI single to center by Koch, putting the Irish ahead 2-0.
During the second inning, Kennett pulled starting pitcher and senior Payton Heinley and junior Reese Robinett came in relief.
An Arkansas commit, Robinett set the Irish down in order in both the third and fourth innings.
Luikart was equally as impressive in that time, striking out the side in the third, and retiring the Indians in four at-bats in the fourth.
Kennett had only four base runners total through the first four innings.
Luikart finished with nine strikeouts, five walks, two hit batters and only two hits allowed.
The Indians got on the board and tied the game in the top of the fifth. An RBI single by Nicholas Gates and a sac fly by Tanner Pierce tied it at two runs apiece.
The Irish (19-8) responded, plating two runs in the home half of the fifth to reclaim a 4-2 lead. Luikart led off with a single, and Little brought him home on an RBI double.
Freshman Drake Losson pinch ran for Little, and he came around to score on an RBI double by junior Kobe Jones.
After a scoreless sixth inning by both teams, Luikart walked his first batter faced in the seventh, and reached his pitch count by that point.
Luikart was relieved by senior Zach Langley, who walked his first batter faced and then watched Robinett blast a three-run homer down the right field line to give Kennett its first lead at 5-4.
"Pitch count was a factor," Jansen said. "Obviously, we had to take Brayden out at that point. At the end of the day, that's baseball. A few things here and there. We could've scored more runs earlier to give ourselves more cushion. Zach Langley coming in, I would do that move 10 times out of 10 again. He's a great human being and I'm so proud of him."
After Langley left the game, Kennett notched a two-run RBI single and another three-run homer off of relievers Davin Guess and Levi Scheerer to extend their lead.
Robinett, who got the win on the mound in 5.1 innings of relief, retired the Irish in four at-bats in the bottom of the seventh, sending Lafayette to the Class 4 third place game on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.
The Irish will face Hollister (25-6), who lost to Blair Oaks 3-2 Wednesday.
Lafayette may not be coming home with the top prize, but Jansen and the team realize they have something to play for Thursday and have plenty to be happy about this season.
"Beautiful thing about baseball is you get to play tomorrow," Jansen said. "It's a new day. At this point, it doesn't matter what happened today. We need to figure out what we need to fix, and we'll start preparing for whoever we get to play tomorrow.
"Really the big thing is us responding, collecting ourselves and coming out tomorrow with a purpose to get third place."
**You can hear Thursday's third place game live on 680 AM and 95.3 FM KFEQ Radio. The audio stream will also be available at 680kfeq.com.**
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.