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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Sikeston looks for return to Columbia

Sunday, March 21, 2004

SIKESTON -- The 2003 Sikeston High School baseball team set a school record for wins and was probably the most dominant team in school history.

But they feel like there is some unfinished business. That's because no matter what records they set or how bad they beat teams, the fact that they didn't make it out of district play still eats at head coach Kevin Self and the rest of the team.

The Bulldogs rolled through the season with a 23-1 record and were ranked No. 1 for most of the year in Class 3.

But a fired up Notre Dame team, whom Sikeston had defeated twice during the season, upset the Bulldogs in the district championship game 7-3 to end any chance of a state championship.

No matter how pretty last year's record looked, the final result dampened an otherwise fabulous season in the eyes of the players. With eight starters returning from last year's team, Self said this year's squad will be on a mission.

"Notre Dame played really well that day and we didn't play as well," said Self. "It still bothers me and I'm sure it still bothers the kids. We felt like we had a chance to win it all last year. We feel that way this year too. But nobody gives you a trophy because you're supposed to be good."

The Bulldogs will be led by senior all-stater Blake DeWitt who has signed to play with Division I power Georgia Tech. DeWitt rewrote the Sikeston record books with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. He also batted .513 with 15 doubles, two triples and 40 runs scored.

But surprisingly, he was rewarded first team all-state as a pitcher, going 9-0 with a 0.87 ERA. He struck out 62 and walked only 10 in 48 1/3 innings.

Joining Blake is all-state catcher Jacob Priday, who has signed with Mizzou. Priday's offensive season was overshadowed by DeWitt, but his numbers were still among the state's best. He led the team with a .519 average and 41 hits. He also had eight home runs, 13 doubles, 31 RBIs and 30 runs scored.

The Bulldogs also return hurler Lance Rhodes, a Saint Louis University signee. Rhodes' pitching stats were a bit down last year, going 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA. But his offensive numbers exploded as he batted .402 with six home runs, 10 doubles and 27 RBIs.

"That's a pretty good nucleus to start with," said Self. "Blake and Lance are going to be No. 1 and No. 2 hurlers. They're going to play shortstop when the other one pitches. Jacob's going to catch, but there may be some times when I can use Jake in the outfield too. I think Mizzou's plans are to move him to the outfield. I'll have a few more liberties this year as far as moving kids around than I've had in the past."

Also returning from last year is senior Scotty Keenan, who played centerfield and saw limited time at pitcher. Keenan made zero errors in the outfield had a solid year at the plate, batting .386 with two home runs, seven doubles and four triples. He also had 18 RBIs and 29 runs scored.

"Scotty's throwing the ball really well right now," said Self. "He's throwing his breaking ball for strikes and it's a little sharper."

Senior outfielder Nathan Eaves returns after batting .424 with four homers and 20 RBIs.

The Bulldogs also need to replace graduated third baseman Drew Lawrence. The early leader for the job is junior Richard Landers, who split time between second base and left field last season. Landers, who made one error all season, batted .356 with 20 RBIs and 14 runs scored.

The Bulldogs will need to find a No. 3 pitcher with the loss of junior Cullen DeHart who underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason.

DeHart, who went 7-0 with a 0.95 ERA on the mound, won't pitch but he will be able to DH and play first base. DeHart batted .390 with six doubles and 17 RBIs last season.

DeHart will platoon at first base with senior Zach Fayette.

"Cullen's elbow is getting better every day," said Self. "It's hard to lose Cullen's arm, but at least we've got some guys that are stepping up that can do the job."

One of the top candidates is junior righty Bryce Wibbenmeyer, who saw limited spot duty last year on the varsity.

Other pitching candidates are juniors Garland Hemphill and Ross Merideth, who could also spell Priday at catcher.

In the outfield, senior Brad Deere returns after splitting time in right last season.

Junior John Robert Bizzell has the inside track at the second base position. Juniors Matt Limbaugh, Ryan Dicus and Eric Chappell could all see some time in the outfield. Dicus could also play third base. Chappell is currently still recovering from a broke wrist.

With the solid nucleus returning, Self has his sights set for the top once again.

"We return eight starters from last year so position-wise we're probably as good as we've been," said Self. "Our goals are basically the same -- the same they've been the last four years. They're simply to win the conference, win the district and contend for a state title. Since I've been here, our ultimate goal has been to win the state title. We've had opportunities and some really good teams. Last year was no different. But sometimes in baseball the best team doesn't always win."

Self has put together quite a stretch in his seven years at Sikeston, compiling a record of 132-35. In the last four years he's led the Bulldogs to four-straight 20-win seasons, which is a school record.

He's won three district championships in his career at Sikeston, twice leading the Bulldogs to the final four, taking second and fourth.

But he's not taking anything for granted, especially after last year's finish.

"One bad day or one good pitcher can end your season," said Self. "There have been lot of good teams that don't win a state title. I mean a lot. We feel like we can win. But even the years we went to the final four and got the championship game, we had some breaks go our way. You've got to have some of those to win it all. We hope things go our way this year."

The Bulldogs will open the season on Tuesday with a home game against Notre Dame at 4 p.m.