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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sikeston baseball team living up to its ranking

Sunday, May 4, 2003

Of all my years of following and covering Sikeston High School athletics, I don't ever recall a Bulldog team being ranked No. 1 in any sport.

But for most of the month of April, Sikeston's baseball team has been ranked No. 1 in Class 3 by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association.

And why not?

The Bulldogs took second in the state two years ago and finished fourth last year.

Nearly every player returned from last year's team and they have helped Sikeston build a stellar record of 15-1.

The team's only loss came to Lone Oak, Ky., in a wooden bat tournament.

Leading the charge once again for Sikeston is returning all-stater Blake DeWitt.

The junior shortstop is having his best season yet as he has blasted nine home runs, with 35 runs batted in and a .480 average. He is only three home runs shy of the school record of 12 set by Blake Ledbetter in 1995.

The school record for RBIs in a season is 49, held by Ledbetter and Clay Hooper in 1998. At his current rate, DeWitt has an excellent chance to break those marks. But the Bulldogs have already lost three games due to the rain and could lose more.

DeWitt also has 10 doubles, 26 runs scored and 13 walks. On the mound he is 6-0 with a 1.21 earned run average in 29 innings. He's struck out 42 batters and walked six for a 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Jacob Priday, the team's junior catcher, is also having a monster year with a team-leading .551 average and 27 hits. He has five home runs, eight doubles, 20 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

Staff ace Lance Rhodes has also been productive on the offensive end, batting .418 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. He also has seven doubles and 24 runs scored.

Junior outfielder Nathan Eaves has also been solid, batting .488, with 21 runs scored and 11 RBIs.

Senior Drew Lawrence (.391 average, 26 runs), junior Scotty Keenan (.386, 10 RBIs) and sophomore Richard Landers (.368, 14 RBIs) have all been consistent offensive players.

But one of the biggest surprises of the year has come from sophomore lefty Cullen DeHart.

Not only has he been solid at the plate with a .474 average, he has developed into a stopper on the mound. He is 4-0 with a team-leading 0.37 ERA. He's struck out 20, walked three and allowed one earned run in 19 innings pitched this year. With that kind of offensive production combined with above average pitching, it's easy to see why Sikeston has been so good this year.

The Bulldogs have already clinched the regular season SEMO Conference title with an unblemished 8-0 mark. They out-scored league foes 100-17. Only Dexter, which lost 12-11, gave the Bulldogs much of a game.

Now with the sights set on the SEMO Conference Tournament, which as of press time was still getting postponed due to the rain, Sikeston will be shooting for its second straight tourney title.

After that, a date with Class 2 No. 3-ranked Clearwater looms on Friday.

And after that, the Bulldogs will be gearing up for the district tournament. At this point, Sikeston is considered the heavy favorite.

But with Dexter, who obviously has what it takes to compete with the Bulldogs, and Notre Dame, who usually saves its best for last, the district won't be any kind of cakewalk for Sikeston.

And then, if Sikeston can get through the district, there's always Class 3 No. 4-ranked North County waiting in the sectional round.

The same team that Sikeston needed 12 innings to dispose of a year ago. And you can bet the Raiders will be looking for revenge.

But lets take it one step at a time and try to get this SEMO Tournament in before it rains again.