(photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
It will be a battle of state-ranked teams as the No. 4 ranked Bulldogs will try to unseat top-ranked North County.
The Bulldogs, which made it all the way to the 3A championship game last year, have won 14 games in a row to run their record to 19-2.
The Raiders are 20-1 on the year, having won their last 10. Their only loss came in a wooden bat tournament against Reidland, Ky., 2-1.
The Raiders won the state championship back in 1997.
"They're ranked and they're good," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "They deserve to be here. We'll have to bring our 'A' game if we want to advance. It doesn't matter who we play. At this point they are an obstacle in our way. Our goal is, first we want to get to the final four, but secondly we want to win it. So hopefully the experience we had last year will be good for us."
Other than its only loss, North County hasn't been challenged very often. The Raiders out-score their opponents by an average of 9.8-to-2.6.
Longtime North County head coach Steve Pasternak thinks tomorrow's game will be an exciting matchup.
"On paper I think there's a lot of similarities between our teams," said Pasternak. "I know that Sikeston's had an awful good year and they've got some individual performances that look nice on paper. We know that it's going to be a good ballgame for us. I see a lot of similarities in pitching. We go pretty deep, but we we've been kind of riding on two pitchers as of late. They've been throwing well enough that we haven't had to go very deep into our pitching staff."
Those two pitchers are junior Mike Cole and sophomore Adam Howard.
Cole is 9-0 on the season having thrown 54 innings. He has a 1.17 earned run average and has struck out 81 and walked 10.
Howard is 6-0 in 42 2/3 innings. He has a 2.13 ERA, having struck out 71 and walked eight.
Reggie Aubuchon could also see some time on the hill. He is 1-0 in 12 1/3 innings. He has a 0.57 ERA with 13 strikeouts and two walks.
"They throw the ball hard but our kids will hit better pitching better than they hit weak pitching," said Self. "They won't have to worry about staying back because these kids will bring good fastballs. So we'll have to worry about cranking it up a notch rather than slowing down a notch. We just need to put it in play. If we go up there and strikeout then we're not going to win. I think if we're selective and get hitters' counts, I think we can hit it and hit it hard."
Howard also is the team's top hitter, batting .616 with six home runs and 33 RBIs.
Cleanup batter Kenny Pikula is hitting .400 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Aubuchon also has five homers, with 13 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Leadoff man Alex Winters is hitting .419 with 21 steals, 29 runs and 14 RBIs.
But the Raiders' impressive numbers don't seem to phase Self.
"Stats are only on paper," said Self. "As far as what I've heard, they're extremely solid on the mound and they've got several, several good bats. It should just be a really good game. They may mirror Kennett in a lot of ways. They've got team speed, they've got power, they've got pitching and from what I hear their defense is pretty solid. It makes for a great game on paper."
The Bulldogs also boast some good statistics.
Jamie Puckett leads the team with a .475 average. He has 28 runs, 25 RBIs and four home runs.
Blake DeWitt is hitting .450 with a team-leading 34 runs. He also has 29 RBIs and five triples.
Catcher Jacob Priday has a .440 average with 29 runs and 31 RBIs.
The trio leads a team in which all of its top eight hitters in the order are batting at least .340 -- and all but one of those top eight have at least 15 RBIs.
DeWitt is 7-0 on the mound, having thrown 43 2/3 innings. He has a 1.76 ERA with 49 strikeouts and eight walks.
Rhodes is 6-0 with a 1.56 ERA. He's thrown 40 1/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 26.
Chris Cota and Puckett have combined for 22 innings for a 0.95 ERA. They've combined to strike out 19 and walk 15.
The Bulldogs have caught fire of late, blowing past several top teams including Jackson in the SEMO Conference Tournament 17-0. Sikeston defeated No. 6 ranked Kennett in the district championship game 7-6 in 10 innings.
"I'm one of the old style coaches -- I don't rely a whole lot on scouting," said Pasternak. "I think we need to take care of our own thing. We try to work on the fundamentals and I like my pitchers to throw strikes. I think if you mix in that with hitting then you're going to at least be in the ball game. I've heard that Sikeston does the same. I've heard that their hitters are patient and they make the pitchers throw strikes. I see a lot of similarities in the two teams. I don't think we can worry so much about Sikeston as we need to worry about North County and try to cut down on errors. We know that we don't want to give them an opportunity because they'll take advantage of it."
The two teams have three common opponents. North County played Farmington three times, winning 11-10, 5-0 and 13-3. Sikeston beat the Knights 13-3.
The Raiders beat Cape Central 9-6. Sikeston lost to Cape 5-1 in the season opener, but rebounded to beat the Tigers 10-7 in the SEMO Tournament.
The Raiders beat Kennett 3-1 the week before districts. Sikeston beat Kennett 4-3 and 7-6.
"Our team is mostly juniors and they have played together as a team since they were 13-years-old -- they have a lot of experience in playing in big games at several levels," said Pasternak. "I know Sikeston had a playoff experience last year but I don't see that as a factor. I think the best team's going to win."