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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Sikeston, North County prepare for sectional game

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sikeston coach Kevin Self speaks to one of his seniors, Richard Landers.
SIKESTON - Sikeston and North County have only met twice on the baseball diamond, but it seems like they've been rivals for many years.

That's because in the only two games they've played, both of which were state sectional matchups, the teams engaged in a couple epic games that will be remembered by area fans for years.

Sikeston won the first meeting in 2002 in a 12-inning marathon, 2-1 on a walk-off single by then-sophomore Blake DeWitt.

The Bulldogs won last year's meeting as DeWitt's grand slam proved to be the difference in a 4-3 game.

Can it get any better?

Fans will find out tomorrow as Sikeston hosts the Raiders in a Class 3 Sectional game at 4:30 p.m. at VFW Stadium.

And as usual, the two appear to be evenly matched on paper.

Sikeston coach Kevin Self expects it to be every bit a nailbiter as the previous two games.

"I think it will be Round 3," said Self. "Obviously their program is solid, just like ours. They've developed good teams each and every year. I expect it will be another classic matchup."

Sikeston enters the game with a 20-5 record while North County is 21-6. The Bulldogs are ranked 10th in Class 3 while North County is ranked ninth.

There are five common opponents --

Clarksville (Tenn.), Marion (Ill.), Fredericktown, Cape Central and Notre Dame.

Sikeston went 6-3 against those teams while North County was 4-3.

Once again, the Raiders offer up a strong pitching staff led by sophomore lefty Aaron Blunt, who is 8-1 with a 1.69 earned run average. He has 72 strikeouts to only seven walks in 54 innings pitched.

"I know the Blunt kid is solid from what I've heard from several people," said Self. "He's a quality pitcher and he's got good stuff. I suspect he'll come in and throw well. We'll have to match their good pitching with good pitching ourselves. It'll be like in the past when we've played them. We cannot strikeout against this guy. If we make them make plays I think we'll beat them."

Self expects to counter with senior right-hander Ross Merideth, who is 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA. He has struck out 40 batters and walked four in 44 innings.

"He's thrown extremely well and he's been a big part of what we do," said Self. "He has to catch when he doesn't pitch so he's got a lot of responsibility put on him."

At the plate, North County junior Dan Harris is the top producer, boasting a .446 average with 17 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 21 RBIs. He's also stolen 12 bases.

Senior Ryan Blankenship is hitting .319 with 10 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs. C.J. Peterson, a 6-3 junior, is batting .407 with 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs.

"I don't think they have quite the offensive weapons that they had last year with a guy like Adam Howard or the Hulsey or Aubuchon kid, but they've got a couple kids that hit on us last year," said Self. "I think they'll be very similar to us as a matter of fact."

Sikeston's senior-laden lineup is led by shortstop J.R. Bizzell, who leads the team with a .500 batting average, going 50-for-100 this year with 11 extra-

base hits and 16 RBIs.

He's scored 41 runs and has stolen 11 bases.

Senior Cullen DeHart leads the team with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. He's batting .418 with 32 runs scored.

Junior designated hitter Tyler Baker is batting .459 with six home runs and 31 RBIs and 31 runs scored.

Senior Richard Landers is carrying a hot bat lately, batting .352 with 19 runs and 25 RBIs.

Self is confident his team will step up to the challenge tomorrow.

"They've proven themselves when they got to the district championship," said Self. "They didn't roll over, they just relaxed and played. It's been a good year for them and I think they'll continue to play well. They told me after graduation that they're ready to go. I think they're chomping at the bit to get there and do the same thing they did against Notre Dame, and that's strike early."