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Local teams looking forward to SEMO Conference Tournament

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Sikeston baseball coach Kevin Self watches a player during a recent practice.
CAPE GIRARDEAU - When it comes to high school baseball, no tournament generates more excitement in the area than the SEMO Conference Baseball Tournament.

The tournament, slated to begin on Thursday at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau, was started two years ago by the SEMO Conference coaches.

It had been in discussion for a couple years but was finally brought to life after getting the deal worked out with the school athletic directors.

No one was sure of how much interest the tournament would bring, but it quickly became apparent after the first couple rounds in its first year in 2001 that it was going to be a smash success.

That year, the championship game was played at 9 o'clock on Monday night, but it still drew a crowd so large that fans had to sit on the hillside on the first base side of Capaha Field.

"It's nice for the kids to play in an atmosphere of that caliber," said New Madrid County Central head coach John Jones. "All the teams get to travel and meet all their district foes in one place and settle it on the field. I don't think there's going to be any better baseball played around here than what you'll see at Cape."

That first year, coaches estimated the attendance to be anywhere from 1,500-to-2,000 people, which would rival many high school football games in the area.

"It's a good tournament for the teams in our area," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "It's not only a good opportunity for teams to play good competition, but you get to play at Capaha Field which is a real nice park to play in."

Plus the SEMO Conference itself is the flagship league in all of Southeast Missouri.

With 10 teams, most of which are the strongest baseball teams in the area, the competition is fierce.

"You look at it, and there's pretty much the 10 best teams in Southeast Missouri involved in our conference," said Self.

Two years ago, Chaffee, which is the smallest school in the conference, won the inaugural tournament with a 5-0 win against eventual Class 3A runner up Sikeston.

Last year Sikeston, despite the No. 3 seed, came from behind to beat Cape Central 10-7 in the first round. Following that, the Bulldogs beat No. 2-seeded Dexter 7-0 behind a no-hitter by Chris Cota and then put on an offensive show in a 17-0 rout of No. 4 Jackson in the championship game.

"The last couple years we've done really well," said Self. "We've had the opportunity to play in the championship game. We've been on both ends of it, we got beat in 2001 and we won it last year. We've really enjoyed the tournament."

The Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3, are the odds-on favorite to repeat this year. Although seedings won't be released until later this week, the Bulldogs will garner the top seed based on record. They currently stand 6-0 in the conference and 13-1 overall.

Heading into the weekend, Notre Dame stood at 6-1 in the conference followed closely by Cape Central at 5-1.

After that, Poplar Bluff (8-8, 4-3 SEMO), Dexter (9-3, 3-3) and Jackson (5-8, 2-4) bring up the next three seeds.

New Madrid County Central (3-3-1, 1-2 in conference), Chaffee (6-6, 2-5), Kelly (4-6, 0-6) and Scott City (0-9, 0-6) bring up the rear.

"You've got the No. 1 team in 3A and you've got a very good team in Cape and Notre Dame," said Dexter head coach Brian Becker. "I think the tournament's up for grabs. Everybody's aiming at Sikeston, but you've got to get to them. I think if a team can really put together a really solid ballgame with good pitching and good defense and try to hit the ball around Sikeston's pitching, it can be a very good tournament."

Dexter has come the closest of the area teams to defeating the Bulldogs. The Bearcats were one strike away from victory but Sikeston rallied to win in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 12-11, keeping its undefeated conference record intact.

Sikeston defeated Notre Dame 4-2 in its season-opener, but the game didn't count in conference play.

Unofficially, Dexter will get the No. 5 seed where they will meet No. 4 Poplar Bluff. The winner of that game would most likely play top-seeded Sikeston in the semifinals, provided the Bulldogs could defeat either Kelly or Scott City.

Sikeston's first game will be played at Notre Dame High School on Friday at 4:30 p.m. Other games will be played at Cape Central's high school field.

"What I'm looking at, there's six teams in this tournament that are capable of winning it," said Jones. "Sikeston, Cape Central, Notre Dame, Dexter, Jackson and Poplar Bluff. Any of those teams are capable of pulling upsets and winning the thing."

Even Jones' NMCC Eagles have shown the ability to play top teams tough, as evidenced by their 3-3 tie with Class 1 No. 1 ranked Oran that was stopped in the ninth inning due to darkness.

"You may see some sleepers this year and you may see some teams get knocked off," said Self. "It all kind of builds to that championship game. It's a good chance to get some exposure with college scouts. We hope to present a good product of Southeast Missouri baseball in that tournament. That's the whole purpose of why we do it."