Notre Dame, which stunned Sikeston in the district a year ago, was in total control on Tuesday for most of the game. But Sikeston, ranked No. 2 in Class 3, flexed its muscles in the fifth and sixth innings for eight runs to rally to a 10-5 victory at VFW Stadium on a cold, windy day.
Even though it was only Sikeston's first contest of the year, the game carried plenty of weight with a conference title hanging in the balance and district seedings later in the year.
And after last year's disappointment, Sikeston may have needed a shot of confidence against a Notre Dame team that has all of a sudden become a nemesis.
"All this other hype and all this stuff that goes around off the field doesn't matter," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "You've got to play the game. You've got to play it on the field. Notre Dame is a quality ballclub. They are solid in every aspect. They've got good pitching and good hitters. I'll guarantee you every time we play them it'll be like this. There will be no blowouts. Today we were clawing tooth and nail for everything we had."
Notre Dame (1-1, 1-1 SEMO Conference) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and led 5-0 heading into the bottom of the third.
Sikeston (1-0, 1-0 SEMO), which stranded the bases loaded four different times in the game, finally broke the ice in the bottom of the third when senior Brad Deere had a two-run single with two outs to cut the lead to 5-2.
"That was a big hit," said Self. "Until you chalk, until you score, it just builds up more pressure and more pressure. Somebody has to step up and do it and Brad did. I think that was a big part of the game."
The Bulldogs still couldn't get the bats rattled much until the bottom of the fifth when a Blake DeWitt sacrifice fly cut the lead to 5-3. One batter later, senior catcher Jacob Priday blasted a two-out, two-run home run to dead centerfield to tie things up at 5-5.
Sikeston continued to pour it on in the bottom of the sixth. Pinch hitter Matt Limbaugh lined a run-scoring double down the left field line to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Deere added an RBI-double in which the left fielder lost the ball in the cloudy, gray sky. Two batters later, senior Lance Rhodes parked a 3-run home run in left field to open up a five run lead.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Graviett knew his team was in trouble even before the offensive explosion.
"We jumped up on them early but they're such a great ballclub with veteran senior kids -- they're not going to fold up," said Graviett. "I think what today shows is they're so deadly with their bats. When they get ahead a little bit they smell the kill, and that's what I saw last year. You really have to stay in front of them if you're going to compete or beat them."
And all the runs started piling up as soon as Graviett relieved starting pitcher Blake Urhahn after the fourth inning.
Urhahn had given Sikeston fits in the past, but Graviett said his pitch count was getting too high to warrant leaving him in.
"Urhahn probably would've stayed out there if I'd have left him," said Graviett. "But it's early with chilly conditions, there's no reason. We need him at the end of the year. We came down here to compete and I feel like that's what we did today."
Urhahn finished with the no-decision, throwing four innings and allowing two runs off five hits. He walked seven and struck out two.
Graviett said Urhahn digs down for something extra when facing Sikeston.
"He's played against Blake DeWitt and Priday and those guys since he was little," said Graviett. "I think there's just a little bit of something there that he wants to come out and compete against those guys every day. He's got great stuff and when he has command of it he's almost unhittable."
Notre Dame's Jeremy Brinkmeyer took the loss in relief. He threw two innings and allowed eight runs (five earned) off six hits and one walk.
The Bulldogs were led in hitting by Matt Wulfers with two doubles and Shane Menz with two hits and two RBIs.
Rhodes started but got the no-decision. After a shaky start in which he gave up four runs in the first, including hitting and walking a batter with the bases loaded, the right-hander settled down.
"We missed some plays and I think that affected him some," said Self. "I thought he threw the ball good and he'll continue to get better. But what I saw was his velocity is back. Last year I didn't think he had pop. I think he's got it back now."
Rhodes threw five innings and allowed five runs (two earned) off five hits. He struck out seven and walked four.
"Rhodes is a pitcher that you can get to if you get him on the ropes a little bit, but when he gets in his groove and settles down he's as good as we'll see all year long," said Graviett. "He has such a mental makeup on the mound on how to get people out at the plate. And when you've got a catcher like Jacob Priday back there that knows how to work in and out, it's a bad combination for opponents."
With numerous scouts on hand, fully equipped with stopwatches, camcorders and radar guns, DeWitt's performance won't go down as one of his best.
But he made up for an 0-for-4 day at the plate by getting the win on the mound. He threw two scoreless innings and allowed two hits. He struck out two and walked one.
"They're not going to pitch to him like they would anybody else in the lineup," said Self. "When they pitched around him they had to come get him and they got him to chase a couple pitches out of the zone. That's part of the game. But Jacob made them pay today."
Priday went 4-for-5 with two RBIs, two runs and a stolen base. Deere went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs. Cullen DeHart went 2-for-2.
Sikeston collected 10 hits while Notre Dame had seven hits.
"It was a good game for the first one out, but we've got a lot of work to do," said Self. "It was good to see guys come off the bench and do well. It was a good team effort."
Notre Dame will play in the Festus Tournament on Thursday. They will play Festus at 4 p.m. Sikeston will play at Kelly today at 4 p.m.