Unit 114 representing District 14 against Chesterfield
SIKESTON - The Sikeston Auxiliary Unit 114 baseball team knew it had some big shoes to fill after last year's junior legion team made an amazing run to the state title game.
So far so good for the 2002 Unit 114 team, which clinched Sikeston's second straight District 14 championship last weekend.
Now the team will set its sights on the Zone Tournament in St. Louis at Heine Meine Field.
Sikeston will play Chesterfield's junior legion at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Imperial will play Anheuser-Busch at 8 p.m. in the other Zone game.
Sikeston won last year's Zone Tournament in Festus in a sudden-death game against the host school.
Current head coach Jeff Limbaugh is hoping some of last year's magic will rub off for his squad, which returned three players from last season.
"Most of those guys moved up but this group has played a lot in little league," said Limbaugh. "We haven't had the success with the World Series like the group before us had, but we've won state championships in little league, we've went to the regional tournaments and traveled around and seen some of the country. I don't think they'll be in awe by going up there. I'll be surprised if we are."
Sikeston (27-13) lost to Imperial 6-4 earlier this year in the Cape Junior Legion Tournament. Sikeston was winning 4-1 heading into the seventh inning but a rash of errors allowed Imperial to make the comeback.
Limbaugh says Imperial is considered one of the top teams in the state.
Also the winner of District 10, in this case Chesterfield, is usually one of the stronger teams in the state.
"We're going to go up there and give it our best shot, roll the dice and see what happens," said Limbaugh. "You don't get this far unless you've got a pretty good team. I've heard the team that wins that district is traditionally tough so I expect Chesterfield to be a pretty good team and a good first game test for our squad."
If Sikeston defeats Chesterfield then they'll play at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. If they lose they will play at 1 p.m. Friday.
Limbaugh's team has been carried by strong pitching and timely hitting this season. Led by Jordan Kimball, Cullen DeHart, Chris Nance, Ross Merideth, Josh Miller and Richard Landers, the pitching staff is deep and talented.
"Our pitching has carried us most of the year and they're going to be asked to take on another challenge," said Limbaugh. "Kimball is probably our ace and I've got a tough decision right now whether to start him in game one or wait until maybe Friday. I'm still undecided about that."
The offense is carried by Landers, DeHart and Ben Pyles while players like Kimball, Miller and J.R. Bizzell provide the top defensive plays.
"We're pretty deep talent-wise," said Limbaugh. "I haven't coached many teams where it's tough to make the lineup out. You've got some guys that all hit the ball and they all bring something different to the table. There's nine to 13 guys we could put out there that give us a good chance to win. It's just playing hunches and going with what you feel is right in certain situations."
Limbaugh says he feels comfortable with every aspect of his team except for an inconsistent defense.
"Defensively we're not where I'd like it to be game after game," he said. "When you get this far it's pitching and defense. Everybody up there can hit the ball. If our defense matches our pitching then you've got to like our chances."
This is Sikeston's second trip ever to the Zone Tournament, matching last year's first.
And like last year, Unit 114 isn't ready to hang it up with just a district championship.
"That's good right now but we don't want to quit there," said Limbaugh. "We want to keep reaching up and see how far it goes. That team in front of us set us some good goals to shoot for. We'll go up there and do our best, throw our best pitchers and put our best lineup on the field and see what happens. I imagine we're as good as anybody up there. I hope we are."