(photo by Kyle Carter, Staff)
DEXTER - The Sikeston Bulldogs baseball team advanced to the championship game of the Class 3A, District 1 Tournament on Wednesday with an 11-1, five-inning victory against fourth-seeded New Madrid County Central at East City Park in Dexter.
Top-seeded Sikeston will play No. 2 Kennett today at 4:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year's championship game.
Against NMCC, Sikeston led 5-1 before plating six runs in the top of the fifth to enforce the 10-run mercy rule.
"I was hoping to hang with them deep into the ballgame and we got our wish until the fifth inning," said NMCC head coach John Jones. "Their bats got hot and they were hitting it where we weren't. I don't think it's anything we can hang our heads for. Our day is coming. Sikeston's going through that right now where they've got a good program."
After a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning by Brian Murph, NMCC couldn't get any offense going.
Sophomore hurler Blake DeWitt picked up the win, throwing all five innings and allowing just three hits. He struck out six and walked one.
"He started throwing that breaking ball for strikes and he was moving pitches in and out," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "At the high school level, if you can throw 3-2 breaking balls for strikes, you're going to usually get them out. High school guys aren't looking for that pitch on a 3-2 count."
Sikeston, which has now won 13 games in a row, jumped out to an early lead and never trailed in the game.
"We only got three but it's important to score early," said Self. "The team that scores first is usually the team that wins."
The Bulldogs (18-2) knocked out Eagle starter Matt Snider in the first inning. Jamie Puckett and Chris Cota provided RBI-singles to build a 3-0 lead.
"We knew they liked to hit the fastball," said Jones. "Snider is a good knuckleballer and he has a good changeup but he just wasn't getting them across for strikes. Then when he had to bear down and throw a strike they just teed off on him."
NMCC answered with Murph's homer in the bottom of the first, which broke a 17-inning scoreless streak by the Bulldogs covering the last three games.
"Murph just got a hold of one," said Jones. "DeWitt just throws so hard that if you get your bat around and get good contact he's going to supply the power for you. Murph just got around on one and he hit it a ton."
The Bulldogs got two more runs in the second inning on a Priday ground out-RBI and Cota bases loaded walk to lead 5-1.
Sikeston broke the game open with six runs in the fifth. Drew Lawrence and Cota had back-to-back two-run singles to make it 11-1.
NMCC's Jake Kimball pitched the majority of the game, allowing eight runs (two earned) off six hits and seven walks in 4 2/3 innings.
"I thought Kimball threw well," said Self. "They made a few errors behind him. He walked a few, but he's a power pitcher and that's kind of his nature. He had some trouble throwing strikes, but they kicked a few behind him."
Sikeston was led offensively by Cota, who went 2-3 with four RBIs and DeWitt, who went 2-4 with three runs and an RBI.
The Bulldogs, which beat Kennett 4-3 earlier in the year, are ranked No. 4 in the state. Kennett is ranked No. 6 in the state with a school record 21 wins to just three losses.
The Bulldogs, which beat Kennett in last year's title game 13-5, will be trying to repeat as district champions.
"We hope to win it again," said Self. "Winning never does get old. I enjoy playing at a high level and I know our kids enjoy playing at a high level. It's gotten us to the championship game and we're going to do our best to try to win another district title. That's the whole point of playing, to win that district and get to that playoff."
NMCC (7-7) will graduate six seniors this year. They are Mark Adam Wade, Tyler Wagner, Snider, Kimball, Scott Allen and Murph.
The Eagles had several rainouts this year which Jones thought contributed to his
We didn't get much of a chance to get better and you have to play to get better," said Jones. "We haven't had a losing season the last two years and we're not going to start next year. We've got some young, good people coming up. We've got a lot of shoes to fill but I think we'll up to the challenge."
The second-seeded Indians exploded for nine runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to enforce the 10-run rule against No. 3 Dexter.
The Indians' Matt Thomas broke a 2-2 tie with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Dexter self-destructed after that.
The Bearcats walked six batters, hit another, committed two errors and gave up three hits in the bottom of the fifth.
Jeremy Lyons' two-run double provided the 10-run cushion to end the game.
"We gave up the home run Thomas and that gave them the momentum going into the next inning," said Dexter head coach Brian Becker. "The wheels kind of feel apart after that."
Eric Bowling took the loss for Dexter, throwing four-plus innings and allowing seven runs off five hits. He walked three, hit a batter and struck out two.
Kennett freshman Ben Foster threw five innings, allowing two runs off two hits and two walks with one strikeout in picking up the win.
Dexter (13-5) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first off a sacrifice fly by Matt Burnett and an RBI-single by Bowling.
Kennett (21-3) answered with a two-run double by Thomas to tie the game.
Dexter will graduate six seniors. They are Cody Boyer, Bowling, Josh Lilly, Jeff Samoska, Nic Smith and Geoff Mouser.
"It was a disappointing end to a good season," said Becker. "There's only going to be one team that doesn't lose their last game. A 13-5 record is nothing to sneeze at. We had some good quality wins, it just so happens we had a bad ending to this game. Overall I was proud of our season."