SIKESTON - The SEMO Conference Baseball Tournament has only existed for four years, but already it's considered the premier high school baseball event during the spring season.
Especially in Sikeston, where the Bulldogs have captured three straight tournament championships and a second place finish in its inaugural year in 2001.
Sikeston will try to make it four straight in the tournament this year as it kicks off today with two preliminary games.
Sikeston, seeded second, will host the winner of seventh-seeded New Madrid County Central (3-4) and 10th-seeded Chaffee (4-8) on Friday at 4 p.m. at VFW Stadium.
The tournament will convene over the weekend with four games on Saturday -- two games at Notre Dame and two games at Cape Central High School.
Championship night will take place on Monday with three games at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau starting at 3 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
And Sikeston hasn't just won the last three tournament titles, they've dominated.
Other than a hard-fought 6-4 victory against Cape Central in 2003, Sikeston whipped Jackson 17-0 in 2002 and pounded Notre Dame 13-2 last season at VFW Stadium.
Sikeston lost 5-0 in the championship game in the tournament's first year to Chaffee in front of an overflow crowd at Capaha Field.
"I think it's a great showcase for all of Southeast Missouri," said Sikeston coach Kevin Self. "You've got 10 teams of pretty much the best baseball schools in the area other than a few smaller schools. It's great for baseball in this area and our conference. It really is fun, especially when you get to that championship night.
"The first year when we played Chaffee I bet there was 2,000 people there. And last year when we hosted Notre Dame down here, I thought it was the greatest atmosphere I've ever been in for high school baseball."
Sikeston will once again be one of the favorites after starting the season 11-3 and 5-1 in conference play, but the team to beat is Jackson, which stands 12
-1 on the season and 5-0 in conference play.
The top-seeded Indians beat Sikeston 5-3 earlier this season. Jackson will play the winner of eighth-seeded Kelly and ninth-seeded Scott City at Jackson on Friday at 4 p.m.
Cape Central checks in at 9-9 on the season followed up by Notre Dame at 7
The Tigers play sixth-seeded Dexter (5-5) tomorrow at 4 p.m. while Notre Dame will play fifth-seeded Poplar Bluff (7-10).
"Anybody can beat anybody really," said Self. "It's a tough tournament to figure out. Look at it, because Chaffee has beaten Bluff this year. There's a couple teams that have one ace pitcher and on that day they can be tough to beat. But the thing about it, you have to have three pretty good pitchers to win this tournament. It'll come down to the pitchers that can throw strikes and the defenses that make plays."
Self says his Bulldogs don't have a dominant starting pitcher, but he has four solid hurlers -- Ross Merideth, Bryce Wibbenmeyer, Cullen DeHart and Jerod Scott -- all capable of taking his team to the title game.
"We don't have anybody that's going to get a lot of strikeouts, but we have four guys that can throw strikes, not walk anybody and give away extra base runners," said Self.
Self is gearing his team towards playing NMCC's Jordan Kimball, a hard right-
handed thrower capable of posting big strikeout numbers.
In last year's tournament, Sikeston barely got by Kimball 1-0 in the first round.
"Chances are we're going to face Kimball because I think New Madrid can beat Chaffee without throwing him," said Self. "If we are able to win this thing this year, it will be the toughest run we've had. Because we will face three really good pitchers.
"We'll have to beat Kimball, (Cape Central's) Brad LaBruyere and then probably (Jackson's) Jason Meystedt. But that will be a great setup for our district. We won't face any three pitchers better than those three."