(Photos by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - The Sikeston Bulldog baseball team posted its third shutout of the season with a 7-0 blanking of SEMO Conference rival Poplar Bluff on Tuesday at VFW Stadium.
Sikeston, ranked No. 4 in Class 3, improves to 6-0 on the season and 4-0 in the SEMO Conference.
The Bulldog offense wasn't as sharp as it had been in the previous five outings, and much of that was due to cold, windy conditions.
"Today was another day like Notre Dame," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self, referring to the team's 4-2 season-opening win. "The wind's blowing in, it's cold. It's hard to hit in those conditions. We hit several balls hard that were caught in the outfield that just got knocked down by the wind."
The burly southpaw entered the game with two shutouts, including a no-hitter against Kennett, this season.
He left the game after allowing six runs (three earned) off five hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out one in taking the loss.
"I wanted to run (Smith) out there against a team with this offensive capability to see what he was made of and see what we were made of as a team," said Poplar Bluff head coach Tim Harmon. "I felt like we've probably beat the people we should have beat so far. We knew it was an uphill battle coming over against these guys."
Drew Lawrence and Scotty Keenan led off the third inning with a double and a single.
Jacob Priday and Lance Rhodes then followed up with run-scoring hits to make it 2-0.
The Mules had a chance to get out of the jam when Zach Fayette flew to centerfield.
Centerfielder Jason Duckett couldn't hold on for the final out, which allowed two more runs to score. After a walk to Luke Jackson, Lawrence singled home two more runs to make it 6-0.
The Bulldogs plated one more run in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI-double by Nathan Eaves.
Lawrence led the team with three hits and two RBIs. No other Bulldog collected more than one hit.
The Bulldogs squandered plenty of scoring chances as they stranded 12 baserunners in the game. They left the bases loaded twice.
"I know when you've been used to scoring 15 to 20 runs, it looks like you didn't do much," said Self. "But I thought we played well. I thought Zach Fayette and Drew Lawrence got big hits when we needed them."
The Bulldogs also got a strong pitching effort from the trio of Rhodes, Cullen DeHart and Keenan.
The three combined for a four-hit shutout as they struck out 11 and walked three.
Rhodes started the game to pick up the win.
"Our thought our pitching staff did a great job," said Self. "I wanted them to get some work. We've got guys that haven't thrown but two or three innings apiece. So I needed to get Lance, DeHart and Scotty some work. And all those guys did exactly what I wanted them to do. They came in and threw strikes and made them hit it. Defensively we made the plays. All in all I thought it was a good game."
The Mules had their four-game winning streak snapped as they fell to 6-3 on the season and 3-2 in the SEMO Conference.
Sikeston has now defeated Poplar Bluff 12 straight times dating back to the 1997 season.
"I'm proud we didn't quit -- we didn't give up 10 and went the distance with them," said Harmon. "We struck out a little too much. Maybe because it was a little bit better pitching we saw today and our hitters didn't turn it up a notch. The weather may have contributed a little bit to it but they've got to play in the same conditions we do."
Sikeston will now set its sights on the McCracken County Wooden Bat Tournament on Friday and Saturday. The Bulldogs will play at Heath High School on Friday against Heath at 3 p.m. They will follow up that game with Union County, Ky., at 5 p.m.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will play at Lone Oak High School. They will open with Millington, Tenn., at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs will play Lone Oak at 3 p.m.