SIKESTON - It must be nice to be in a hitting slump but still produce victories.
That's what the Sikeston Bulldogs have been doing as of late, most recently in a 7-2 victory against Class 2, No. 3 ranked Clearwater on Friday afternoon at VFW Stadium.
After blistering the ball for the majority of the season, putting out double digits in hits and runs with regularity, the Bulldog offense has been struggling.
But at the same time, the team has been figuring out ways to win close games while the pitching staff continues to keep opponents' runs to a minimum.
Sikeston (19-1) trailed Clearwater for the early part of Friday's game but the Bulldogs erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fourth to capture the lead.
They added one run in both the fifth and sixth innings for some added insurance.
Sikeston finally broke the shutout in the fourth on a run-scoring double by Jacob Priday to plate Blake DeWitt.
The inning was kept alive when Priday stole third with two outs on a bang-bang play. The throw clearly beat Priday but he was ruled safe when the third baseman missed the tag.
After two walks loaded the bases, sophomore Richard Landers came through with a two-run single to centerfield to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
Landers advanced to second when the outfielder missed the cut-off man.
"Richard got the big hit again," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "Landers just seems to put it in play. He doesn't hit it real hard, but he'll hit a line drive right through the infield. He's swinging the hot bat right now."
Clearwater (14-2) kept the inning going on a throwing error by third baseman Jerod Henson. The miscue allowed two more runs to score on Landers' heads-up base running.
"It opened up a big inning but you're on the road," said Clearwater head coach Tim Green of the Priday call. "You don't expect every call. You'd like to see it always go your way. But it didn't cost us no game by far. Because we had a routine ground ball that we threw away. You've got to make those plays. We're better than that."
Clearwater entered the week undefeated on the year but the Tigers lost to Ellington earlier in the week.
In the bottom of the fifth, Lance Rhodes led off with a double. He scored on a DeWitt bloop double down the left field line to make it 6-2.
The Bulldogs added one more run in the sixth when Bryce Wibbenmeyer reached on an error. He eventually scored on Drew Lawrence's single.
"You can't give a good team like this a second and third life," said Green. "We fell apart that one inning and gave them five runs. You can't do that. They took every advantage."
Early on it appeared the Tigers would be ripe to upset the Class 3 top-ranked Bulldogs.
And they were looking to do it on the basepaths. Wes Crum got it started in the first inning when he singled, stole second base standing up, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an errant throw by the catcher into left field.
They manufactured another run in the top of the second when Tyler Rose bunted for a hit. He stole second, advanced to third on a ground out, and scored on a wild pitch to take a 2-0 lead.
Self said the Tigers were taking advantage of Bulldog hurler Cullen DeHart's slow delivery to the plate.
"Cullen's really deliberate at the mound," said Self. "He was really slow about picking (his leg) up and going to the plate. Everything they stole was off him. Once he quickened that up a little bit, Jake started throwing people out. It makes a big difference."
And it did.
The Tigers didn't steal another base the rest of the game as Priday gunned down both attempts.
And in the meantime, the Tigers' offense never could solve DeHart.
The sophomore lefty threw five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) off five hits. He struck out six and walked one.
Wibbenmeyer closed the door in the final two innings.
"We need to play competition like this," said Green.
"Hopefully this will improve us. (Sikeston) is a good bunch and they're going to go far because they're highly successful. I mean we didn't even face any of their aces. But the guys that threw, threw well for them. So you've got to tip your hat to that."
Clearwater hurler Justin Sly kept the Bulldogs hitters off balance for the first three innings with a variety of pitches, arm angles and motions.
He went the distance, allowing seven runs (four earned) off eight hits. He struck out four and walked two.
"He threw a lot of different pitches," said Self. "Everything from a knuckle ball to a straight change to sidearm slurve to whatever. He threw a lot of different pitches from different angles. You have to see him a couple times to be able to figure out where he's coming from and what he's going to throw from that angle. So it took a little while to adjust. We still didn't hit balls hard. We had two or three, that's about all."
While Clearwater showed the capabilities of competing with the Bulldogs, Self is hoping the two schools can keep the series going.
This is the first year the two teams have met.
"They've got a good program," said Self. "I know Tim, I played ball with him. I know he does a good job. Clearwater's always had good baseball. It's just a chance to play somebody different, and hope you can kind of get a rivalry or something going. It's two different classes, 2A and 3A. There's not a big difference there in those classes."
Sikeston will play at New Madrid County Central on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to close out the SEMO Conference schedule. The Bulldogs (8-0) have already clinched the championship.