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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Sikeston makes return trip to final four

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Sikeston second baseman J.R. Bizzell applies the tag on Herculaneum's Ryan Dickerman.
SIKESTON - Playing one day after perhaps the greatest win in school history, one might understand if the Sikeston Bulldogs weren't as sharp as usual when taking on Herculaneum on Saturday.

But they still had enough left to defeat the Blackcats 10-6 in a Class 3 quarterfinal game at VFW Stadium.

Sikeston advances to the MSHSAA Class 3 final four for the third time in four years. They will play Ozark at 11 a.m. on Friday in Columbia at Taylor Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri.

Less than 24 hours after the Bulldogs defeated defending state champion North County 4-3 in a thriller, Sikeston had to strap it up again for the right to go to the state final four.

Against the Blackcats, the Bulldogs' appeared to be dazed from the start as they committed three errors in the first three innings.

But Sikeston (26-1) snapped out of the funk with a six-run barrage in the fifth inning to put the game away.

Sikeston coach Kevin Self said the win was even more gratifying after last year's disappointing playoff exit in the district tournament.

"I'm just happy for these kids and this bunch of seniors," said Self. "That's all they've talked about and all they've wanted ever since the debacle we had last year."

The Bulldogs trailed Herculaneum (20-9) for most of the afternoon in front of an overflow crowd at VFW Stadium. Fans packed the bleachers and they lined up in vehicles along the outfield fence, sitting atop RVs and trucks, ho

ping to catch maybe one last glimpse of the hometown team.

For most of the game it looked like the Blackcats might pull off the upset.

The Blackcats took advantage of two errors by normally sure-handed shortstop Blake DeWitt. A throwing error in the second inning kept an inning alive, allowing Josh Taylor to place a two-run triple down the right field line past a diving Scotty Keenan.

Sikeston c

ut the lead to 2-1 on a fielder's choice-RBI by Richard Landers.

Another error went right through DeWitt's legs, allowing two runs to score to give the Blackcats a 4-1 lead.

"When you get to a game of this magnitude there is so much pressure on both teams, especially on defense," said Self. "Today we had trouble making a few plays. Blake makes that play 99 times out of 100. That's just part of the game. Physical mistakes don't bother me. It's the mental mistakes that kind of worry you. And that didn't really happen any this game."

The Bulldogs finally got some offense going in the bottom of the third. Keenan tripled over the centerfielder's head to plate Ross Merideth. Then DeWitt added a sacrifice fly to bring home Keenan, cutting the lead to 4-3.

One batter later, Jacob Priday blasted a monstrous home run over the centerfield fence to tie the game at 4-4.

"That was a bomb -- I don't believe I've ever seen a home run farther than that in this ballpark," said Self. "That ball went over the trucks -- cleared the vehicles out there. I don't know how far it went, but when he hit it you knew it was gone."

The tie game didn't last as the Blackcats quickly responded with another go-ahead run.

Bulldog starting pitcher Lance Rhodes hit No. 9 batter Shawn Fleis with two outs. Fleis stole second and scored on a single by Johnny Mitchell.

Herculaneum maintained a 5-4 lead until the bottom of the fifth when the Bulldogs exploded.

A one-out walk to Keenan and an error on a potential double play got it started. DeWitt then hit a tall flyball to left centerfield for what appeared to be a routine out.

But with the wind blowing hard towards left field, the ball carried away from the centerfielder, falling in the gap for a double. Keenan came around to score to tie the game at 5-5.

"When that ball left I thought, 'well that's just a flyball,' but the wind kept taking it away from the centerfielder and the leftfielder never broke on it, so it fell untouched," said Self. "You've got to have some breaks and that was probably our big break. That broke things open."

After intentionally walking Priday to load the bases, left-handed pitcher Mitchell couldn't find the strikezone against Nathan Eaves, walking him on four straight pitches to bring home the go-ahead run.

The big hit came from Cullen DeHart, who bounced a single into right field to score two runs. Priday, hustling from second, ran through a stop sign and had to take a wide turn around Self before just sliding in under the tag of the catcher, giving the Bulldogs an 8-5 lead.

"I wanted to hold him on that play and I really didn't want to take a chance of getting him thrown out," said Self. "But he had already made up his mind when that ball was hit that he was scoring. He had to go completely all the way around me and I thought he was definitely going to be thrown out. But luckily enough the ball hit on the edge of the grass and took a high bounce."

J.R. Bizzell and Merideth each had run-scoring singles to keep the rally going, pushing the lead to 10-5.

"John Robert and Merideth had just big two out hits to open it up even further," said Self. "Had we not got those hits, then we're looking at an 8-6 game."

Herculaneum was able to get a run back on John Lyons' solo home run in the top of the sixth, but they couldn't plate any more.

The Bulldogs turned a 6-4-3 double play in the sixth and Rhodes made a sensational play to end the game, pouncing on a slow roller down the third base side, fielding and firing to first in one motion.

Herculaneum only managed five hits, but took advantage of Sikeston's miscues and ran the bases aggressively to put themselves in scoring position.

Herculaneum head coach Andy Runzi said his team was not in awe of Sikeston's tradition or No. 1 ranking in the state.

"Anytime you can win 20 ballgames in a high school baseball season I think you've had a good year and we had no reason to come down here and think that it was going to change at all," said Runzi. "Sikeston was the rabbit and we were the hound chasing the rabbit. Sometimes I'd rather be the hound because when somebody's chasing you you're constantly looking over your shoulder. But this team's got a lot of focus and the No. 1 billing is definitely deserving."

Mitchell took the loss for the Blackcats, throwing two innings in relief and allowing six runs (four earned) off three hits and three walks.

Ryan Dickerman started for the Blackcats but he lasted just 2 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs off three hits with one walk.

"Our starting pitcher's arm was a little bit sore today and we didn't want to put him in a position where he was going to get hurt," said Runzi. "Some kids got in there that probably weren't expecting to get the ball much."

The Bulldogs had nine hits in all, with four of them coming from the Nos. 6-through-9 batters.

"Hats off to Sikeston, they've got a good hitting ballclub," said Runzi. "They hit up and down the lineup. I was really impressed with the way the bottom half of the lineup was kind of gritty and bunt at the ball and put it in play. They're going to be a tough team to beat."

DeWitt was 2-for-3 with a double, triple and two RBIs. "DeWitt proved to me today he can go the other way," said Runzi. "I thought he liked to jerk the ball a little bit but he hit one into left centerfield pretty well. He's an all-around good hitter. I think you've just got to make him hit a pitcher's pitch and make him get himself out."

Priday was 2-2 with his eighth home run and three runs scored. Merideth was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run.

"We had watched them play (Friday) against North County and we felt like DeWitt and Priday were the two guys we didn't want to beat us," said Runzi. "We kind of worked around those guys and tried to come right after those other guys but the bottom of their order did a nice job."

Rhodes was the winning pitcher, throwing all seven innings and allowing six runs (two earned) off five hits. He struck out five, walked one and hit two batters.

"He kept us off balance -- I thought when he got his breaking ball out front a little bit that he worked pretty good against us," said Runzi. "He really kept the top of our lineup off check pretty much all day long. He's a good pitcher and he hit his spots. I wouldn't call him overpowering, but he's definitely got a good enough breaking ball to keep people off balance and in check."

Now with the monkey off the team's back, Self thinks the team can loosen up once they get to Columbia this week.

"Now they know they're in the elite of the state and they're back up there and I think we'll be able to relax enough that we'll be able to play our best baseball of the year," said Self. "We've had one or two games, the Jackson game and the Notre Dame game here, that we just played lights out. And that's what it will take to win it."