(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
The Bulldogs lose only one everyday starter from last season. However, all-
state first baseman Tyler Baker will be missed as he led the club in every major offensive category in 2006.
While Baker's offensive production will be hard to replace, Sikeston has the depth and experience to make a run at a district title.
"Last year was kind of a rebuilding year for us," said Sikeston head coach Kevin Self. "Expectations were not overly high, but we did get to the conference tournament finals. Our problem last year is that we couldn't score any runs. This year, the kids are swinging the bats well in practice. If we can consistently score some runs this year, we can be as good as anybody."
It was a year of first last season for the 14-11 Bulldogs. It was the first time in six years that Sikeston hadn't reached a district final. It was also the first time a Sikeston team hadn't won 20 games in a season since 1999.
Self has accumulated a lofty 193-54 record while at Sikeston and is hopeful that his 11th year in the program will produce another solid club. The Bulldogs last won a district title in 2005.
"It was difficult to watch us struggle like we did last year," said Self. "We had some good stretches, but I never got the feeling that the team would ever get over the hump. We were just too inexperienced. This year, I think the team can have a real solid year. The kids are improving. They are working hard and the experience of varsity ball last year will hopefully pay off for us this year. The guys seem a little bigger and stronger this year."
Senior Jerod Scott returns as Sikeston's leading hitter and pitcher. Scott batted .307 last year and will be counted on to provide some solid innings this year. Scott, Nick Lambert, Scott Droddy, Joey Williams, Dustin Barker and Chase Ferrell are expected to make up most of the Sikeston pitching rotation.
Ferrell is still recovering from a broken leg suffered during the football season. If fully healthy, Ferrell has possibly the best arm on the Sikeston staff.
According to Self, Ferrell has good movement on his pitches and throws a solid breaking ball.
"Our guys have to throw for us to be successful," said Self. "We have a lot of quality arms on the staff, but they have got to throw strikes. We will play three or four games a week and I think that is to our advantage. We are deep, I think we have 10 or 12 quality arms and we can move people around. The guys have to stay mentally focused and perform when the game is on the line."
The probable starters for the Bulldogs in the field include Lambert at first, Austin Williams at second, Scott or Droddy at shortstop and Cody Anderson at third base. Self seems content with his defensive infield. Ferrell or Seth Baker will be behind the plate.
"We are solid in the infield," said Self. "The key for a good high school defense is just to make the routine plays. If a team can make the spectacular play great, but usually the inability to make a routine play kills a team. Our kids can make the routine play."
The outfield is a little more open than the infield and players will be switching in and out according to Self. The players that will be included in the outfield mix are Baker, Williams, Barker and Josh Jackson.
"Our outfielders need to come around," said Self. "We got some guys battling for positions so it should be interesting. I can tell you one thing, we won't beat ourselves. We are fortunate enough that we can move some people around if we need to. Our depth is the biggest bright spot of this team."
Kennett is the returning Class 3, District 1 champions. However, the Indians lose eight starters and many believe they are in a rebuilding mode. Notre Dame took second place last year, but lost five starters. Dexter might be the early favorite as they return a majority of a team that went 10-8 in 2006.
"Everybody lost more players than we did in districts," said Self. "I don't think you can pick a favorite yet, but Dexter has a senior group that they are high on. I like our chances just as much as anybody else. The district is wide open, anybody can win it."
Sikeston will open the 2007 season at home on Tuesday against rival Notre Dame Bulldogs. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. at VFW Stadium.
"Playing Notre Dame in the first game is a good test for the team," said Self. "It will be good to ready for the remainder of the year and to see where we stand early on."