Priday walk-off single puts SHS in title game
CAPE GIRARDEAU - The SEMO Conference Baseball Tournament has only existed for three years, but the Sikeston Bulldogs seem to have taken a liking to the high profile event.
For the third straight year the Bulldogs will play for the championship, but it didn't come easy.
The top-seeded Bulldogs dodged a bullet from No. 4 seed Poplar Bluff, winning 2-1 on Jacob Priday's walk-off single Monday at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau.
Sikeston (17-1) will play No. 2 seeded Cape Central tonight at 7:30 at Capaha.
Poplar Bluff (10-10) will square off with Jackson in the third place game at 5 p.m. Prior to that game, third-seeded Notre Dame will play Dexter in the fifth place game at 2:30.
In Monday's semifinal game with Poplar Bluff, the Bulldogs left the bats at home as they recorded a season-low four hits on freshman Mule pitcher John Patty, who went the distance.
"We just never could hit the ball hard," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "He was cutting us up inside. We just couldn't get to it. I tip my hat to that kid, he threw a good ballgame."
But the four hits was just enough for Bulldog hurler Blake DeWitt, who shut down the Poplar Bluff offense as well.
He allowed one run off four hits. He struck out nine and walked three.
Sikeston was able to push across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh after Patty issued a leadoff walk to Drew Lawrence.
Lance Rhodes successfully sacrificed Lawrence to second and DeWitt was intentionally walked to set up first and second with one out, bringing the Bulldogs' leading hitter Priday to the plate.
It was a gamble that Poplar Bluff head coach Tim Harmon was willing to live with.
"It's just pick your poison," said Harmon. "You've got DeWitt and then Priday, both excellent hitters. DeWitt already hit a bomb off us once. Nothing against Priday, he's a great hitter, but we'll take our chances with him more times than we will with DeWitt. They're both great hitters -- it's just pick your poison."
Priday, after failing to make solid contact in his first three plate appearances, came through in the clutch with a hard single to left field, allowing Lawrence to score easily from second to end the game.
"I felt like they'd probably walk Blake," said Self. "But that's fine. Because I figured Jake can hit. And Jake does. If you're going to walk one, you'll get to the other."
Poplar Bluff jumped ahead in the first inning when Chris Smith doubled home Jason Duckett.
Sikeston let a golden scoring chance slip away in the bottom of the second when they had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Patty was able to dig deep and strike out the side as the Bulldogs stranded all three runners.
Patty was able to get out of several other jams when Sikeston had runners in scoring position, leaving even Harmon puzzled at his young pitcher's dominance.
"I'm not really sure," said Harmon when asked how Patty shut down the Bulldog offense. "I just thought it was time to see what he could do against an opponent such as Sikeston. He's disappointed right now but he'll learn from this. It was a great experience for him. I thought he went right after them. It just looked like he got stronger on every pitch."
Except for the final inning, Patty's lone mistake was a fastball in the middle of the plate that DeWitt launched over the centerfield fence 400-feet away in the bottom of the third inning.
The solo home run was a much-needed boost for Sikeston's punchless offense.
"That ball was hit," said Self. "There ain't no doubt. He got to the fastball up and he hit it -- flat out hit it."
Like Patty on the mound, DeWitt also had to get himself out of a jam. After walking two batters in the top of the fifth inning, DeWitt struck out the Mules' top hitter Smith to end the threat.
"(Sikeston is) not really known for their pitching, but heck, he pitched well," said Harmon of DeWitt. "It looked like he gutted up. He knew Smith was a good hitter and he made a perfect pitch. I think it was low and away, the hitter's afraid to take it and Blake hit a good spot. He's an excellent player, in my mind the best player in the conference."
The Bulldogs also had several standout defensive plays. None bigger than in the third inning. With a runner on first, Patty singled down the left field line.
Left fielder Brad Deere quickly cut the ball off and relayed to shortstop Rhodes, who turned and threw out the runner at third to end the inning.
"We told the guys before the game against Dexter, we wanted a shot at Sikeston," said Harmon. "It's just good to see us compete against a team such as Sikeston. I can't brag enough on our kids. We weren't intimidated by them. I really felt like we were gaining confidence as the game went on. Everybody on the bench was kind of feeling it over here like we really had a shot."
Patty threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs off four hits. He struck out four, walked four and hit four batters.
Sikeston stranded nine base runners in the game.
"Sometimes you've got to win 2-1 ballgames," said Self. "If you're going to be any good, you've got to win them at both ends. You can't expect to score 12 to 13 runs day in and day out. I tip my hat to Poplar Bluff. I think they're better than a lot of people give them credit for. They're a legitimate four seed."