CHEROKEE, Iowa – Christmas in July.
The potential requiem for denizens of this close-knit county seat community of 5,000 or so and particularly its baseball historians, in some far off tomorrow will fondly embrace the Summer of ’07 – that’s 2007.
That’s when the town team, the school boys, won Iowa’s Class 2A state prep baseball championship.
In the here and now, though, folks here can celebrate the extraordinary accomplishment once again, this time at Christmastime.
On the 10th anniversary of that championship, the players, coaches and community will observe a testimony to the crown the evening of Dec. 22 (6:30 p.m.) at Cherokee High School.
“We hope to have a great crowd and all but three guys on the team are going to be there,’’ says Cory Ege, a senior all-state shortstop and pitcher on the championship team.
“It was a special group of guys with a strong desire to win the championship.
“We had great fun, though, and we were on a mission, too, because we’d come within a game or two of winning the championship the two previous years."
Ege, now the Cherokee coach, had teams lose heartbreaking substate (go to state) contests in each of the past two years.
Two members of the team, Cody Ege and Matt Koch, wound up being baseball pitching stars of tomorrow and each made their Major League pitching debuts in 2016.
Cody, a freshman pitcher and first baseman on the championship team, made his debut for the Miami Marlins at San Francisco last April 23.
Koch, pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, made his MLB mound debut last Sept. 9, also against the Giants.
Cody Ege and Koch, the son of the championship coach, Scott Koch, both played collegiately at the University of Louisville before being taken in Major League June drafts.
Another member of the team, Buena Vista grad Phil Schulenberg, is the game day events coordinator for the Los Angeles Angels.
Cory Ege and twins Michael and Matthew Boothby were the only seniors on the title team.
“There were guys from each class, but we’d all played together on some youth teams and hung out a lot,’’ said Cory. “There was the Boothbys, me and Cody and Tim and Tyler Jones, three sets of brothers, so there really was a family atmosphere.’’
Coach Koch utilized his full roster.
Phillip Bieber, Scott Brown, Nathan Carlson, Brandon Henke, Tony Hunt, Mark Johnson, Dillon Moye, Matt Pitts, Kyle Ruehle, Kyle Schuck, Kyle Schuett and Keaton Tuttle all played major roles for a 31-2 team.
Scott Koch was assisted by Jared Koch and Steve Zonka.
Ruehle starred collegiately at Simpson, earning All-Iowa Conference plaudits. Schuck was a football standout at Morningside earning NAIA Player of the Year honors while speedy sophomore Kyle Schuett was the state track champ in the 100 meters as a junior and fifth as a senior.
The Braves won the Lakes Conference title at 14-1 and posted the most wins in school history.
“We had confidence we’d win every game,’’ recalls Cory Ege. “But, sometimes people forget we were losing our first district game late to Sioux Center until Matt Koch hit a grand slam home run.’’
The Braves then 10-runned their next three foes to reach the state tourney where Bondurant-Farrar (3-2) and North Fayette (3-1) tumbled before avenging a loss to Davenport Assumption in 2006 title game with a 5-4 triumph.
Cherokee had played in just two state baseball tournaments prior to Scott Koch, taking command of a productive run of success in the mid-1990s, culminating with the state championship.
In the two-class days, qualification was difficult back in 1976 when the Braves made the field for the first time in school history, advancing to the big-class (2A) elite eight in Marshalltown, which hosted parts of the state tourney for several years.
Coach Dan McClanahan’s team lost a 12-inning, 2-0 nail-biter to Davenport Central, which ended up falling 1-0 to host Marshalltown in the title game.
Interestingly, Cherokee returned to Marshalltown 10 years later when just four schools advanced to the finals in an expanded four-class format.
Coach Larry Weede’s Black and Gold fell 16-6 to Pella Christian in the 3A first round while Dyersville Beckman was taking care of Centerville and then Beckman nudged Pella Christian 8-6 in the final.
Koch’s first state tourney squad swept aside 3A opposition to grab a coveted tourney berth in Marshalltown in 1995, losing 6-5 to Harlan in Carroll.
In 2005 at Principal Park in Des Moines, Cherokee trimmed perennial power Mason City Newman in the first round, 10-3, but lost to Carroll Kuemper in the 2A semis.