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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Three Sikeston baseball players sign Division I

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Sikeston baseball standouts Jacob Priday, left, Lance Rhodes, center, and Blake DeWitt.
SIKESTON - It's not too often that a high school in Southeast Missouri produces Division I baseball players.

But the Sikeston Bulldogs now have three on one team, as they had players sign with three different colleges on Wednesday.

Blake DeWitt honored his verbal commitment he made in August when he signed with Georgia Tech.

Also signing on was catcher Jacob Priday to the University of Missouri and pitcher Lance Rhodes to Saint Louis University.

"All three of these guys are just good athletes," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "They can play anywhere. I think all three of these guys are going to have great careers at three different schools."

DeWitt's signing was highly anticipated, something that goes with the territory of being a record-setting slugger.

Last season he broke school single-season records with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. He also batted .513 with 15 doubles, two triples, 40 runs scored and 17 walks.

He was an all-state infielder as a sophomore, but was selected as an all-state pitcher last year when he went 9-0 with a 0.87 ERA in 48 1/3 innings, striking out 62 batters and walking just 10.

He said Georgia Tech will probably start him out at second base instead of his normal position of shortstop, where he made just two errors in 91 chances last year.

DeWitt chose Georgia Tech over such baseball powerhouses as LSU, Mississippi State and USC.

"The baseball reputation they carry, the type of players they recruit, and of course the academic side of it was a good deciding factor for me," said DeWitt. "I had a few other options that I really looked hard at. When it came down to it, Georgia Tech had better options for me."

At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, DeWitt doesn't have the size of some of the top big-time recruits in the country. Self says none of that matters.

"The thing about Blake that's changed since his freshman year is he's lost a lot of body fat," said Self. "He's gotten quicker, he's gotten faster, so he's going to be more versatile and he can play more positions. I think he can do that when he goes down there. He'll adapt to whatever position they want him to play."

Priday, a first team all-state catcher for the Bulldogs, had one of the top offensive seasons in all of Southeast Missouri, rivaling DeWitt's record-setting numbers.

He led the team with a .519 average and 41 hits. He also had eight home runs, 13 doubles, 31 RBIs, 30 runs scored and six stolen bases.

According to the MSHSAA Records Book, Priday broke the state record for chances with 193.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Priday chose Mizzou over Kentucky and Southwest Missouri State University.

"I felt like I fit in at Mizzou," said Priday, also an all-state linebacker in football. "They gave me a pretty good offer and I feel like I'll be able to play there next year. They just gave me an offer I couldn't resist."

Priday said he could be moved to outfield or first base in addition to catching for the Tigers.

"They said I'm going to play all three," he said. "But I'm in the lineup for the bat, not so much defensive."

Priday will be joining former Sikeston teammate Adam Garrett, an infielder for the Tigers who had a big impact on the team as a true freshman last season.

"It's going to be nice to play with somebody I know," said Priday. "He can help me fit in a little better and get me off on the right foot."

"He's a great athlete in football as well, but I like his decision going baseball, because I think he's got a lot of potential and a lot of upswing with his baseball career," said Self. "He has good speed as a catcher, his throwing arm and his bat. I think he is going to buck really quick at Mizzou. He'll go up there and work like he's worked here and he'll crack that lineup quick."

Rhodes has been considered the team's staff ace the last two seasons.

Although his numbers were actually better his sophomore year, he still put together a solid spring as a junior as he faced off against the best teams on the Bulldogs' schedule.

He went 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 56 and walking 22 in 46 2/3 innings.

He was probably even more dangerous with a bat as he batted .402 with six home runs. He added 27 RBIs, 37 runs scored, 10 doubles and two triples.

As a sophomore, Rhodes went 6-1 with a 1.43 ERA, striking out 56 and walking 31 in 58 2/3 innings.

His best performance was a 10-inning no-decision against top-ranked North County in a sectional game in 2002. He struck out 10 and allowed one run in helping the Bulldogs win the game 2-1 in 12 innings.

It was then that Rhodes proved he had the stuff to be a dominating pitcher.

"The biggest thing about Lance is he thinks," said Self. "He's got the ability to think his way out of situations, or think his way through situations. He's not a thrower, he's a pitcher. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get people out. He's got the velocity and he's got the stuff to pitch at the next level."

Rhodes, who throws a mid- to upper-80s fastball to complement his curve and change up, said it came down to Saint Louis, Mizzou and a few junior colleges. But in the end, it was the prospect of early playing time that swayed him to the Billikens.

"Going to a place like Mizzou or somewhere in the Big 12, it would've been tougher to play right off the bat," said Rhodes. "Coach said I could come in my first year and get some playing time so that was a big factor. He said I have a pretty good chance to be in the starting rotation my freshman year, so I'm looking forward to that."

Self said Rhodes is still physically maturing, which could also help the slender-framed pitcher cope with the rigors of Division I pitching down the line.

"Blake and Jake have both physically filled out -- Lance hasn't, he's just now starting to," said Self. "You're going to see him get stronger and put on more weight. He'll be able to pitch, but I really think he'll be able to hit at the next level if they decide to allow him to do that."

DeWitt, Rhodes and Priday all three played for the St. Louis-based Midwest All-Stars this summer in an effort to get more exposure.

It appears to have paid off.

Even DeWitt, a two-time all-stater who was is well-known around the state, wasn't heavily pursued until this summer.

"Without (the Midwest All-Stars) I wouldn't have been seen at all," he said. "As soon as we went to that one tournament (in Memphis), Georgia Tech saw me one time and they followed me the rest of the summer and made the offer. The rest is history."

Rhodes said, "It definitely helped me. It got me a chance to play in front of tons of college coaches. Just the exposure of playing on a high-caliber team like that and playing against the competition of that quality every day helped my pitching out big-time."

The trio formed the main cog of the Bulldogs' 23-2 team last spring. Sikeston was ranked No. 1 through most of the season before it all came to a crashing halt in the district championship with a shocking 7-3 loss to Notre Dame.

With those three returning, in addition to several other starters, the Bulldogs will have high expectations once again.

"Not winning district was kind of disappointing," said Rhodes. "I expect us this year to pretty much have the same record. We've got everybody coming back. I really think this year we have a good chance of winning district and going to state. That's my main goal, to go to state. After that, my personal goals will hopefully fill in if we make it that far."