Trailing 4-0 heading into the top of the seventh inning, Sikeston put together an unlikely rally to tie the game.
But that's where the magic ended for the Bulldogs as North County's Wes Foshee came through with a walkoff single in the bottom of the seventh inning to win the game 5-4 in Thursday's Class 3 Sectional game at VFW Stadium.
Thursday's defeat was Sikeston's first loss in five sectional appearances since 1995. And it marked the Bulldogs' first loss to North County in three tries.
All three games Sikeston has had with the Raiders has been decided by one run. The Bulldogs won the previous two matchups in 2002 (2-1 in 12 innings) and last year (4-3).
"I've been around with those other games and I know the history, so it's nice to be able to step in and get a win here," said first-year North County coach Kyle Yount. "I looked at a quote from coach (Kevin) Self and he said he expected it to be Round 3. They've been the matchups that go down in history as great ball games and this is another one. It's another great game between two great ball teams."
North County (22-6) appeared to be in complete control of the game with sophomore lefty Aaron Blunt holding a 4-0 lead while limiting the Bulldogs to just two hits heading into the seventh.
But he issued two walks in the seventh and Yount opted to bring in senior right-hander Ryan Blankenship to try to close the door.
Sikeston (20-6) sophomore Jerod Scott then stepped to the plate and fell behind 0-2 in the count before sending a base hit to left field to bring in Ross Merideth from second, cutting the lead to 4-1.
After Blankenship walked Eric Chappell to load the bases, J.R. Bizzell reached base on a swinging bunt to bring home Matt Limbaugh, making it 4-2.
That's when Richard Landers came through in the clutch with a two-run single to center field, bringing in Scott and Chappell to tie the game. Yount then brought in Foshee, a junior southpaw, but he uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners up to second and third.
But Foshee was able to settle in and get a strikeout. After intentionally walking Tyler Baker, Foshee got a ground ball back to him to end the threat.
"We had the bottom of the order coming up and we didn't want to go any further than that because you don't want Bizzell, DeHart and Baker coming up to the plate because they're big-time hitters," said Yount. "I was just happy that when we got to that point we were able to make some big pitches and get some big outs.
"That's the way baseball is. You're up 4-0 and it seems like you're cruising, but it can change in the blink of an eye. It was nice to see us hold off the surge and get the run in the bottom of the seventh."
North County then secured the win in the bottom of the seventh. C.J. Peterson reached when he sent a screamer towards third base that Landers made a nice diving stab, but his throw was in the dirt.
Nick Eckl then bunted for a hit. Lance Eftink then laid down a successful sacrifice bunt with two strikes to move the runners up to second and third.
"We preach small-ball -- that's kind of our M.O.," said Yount. "We'll bunt with the cleanup hitter, we'll bunt with the leadoff hitter, we'll bunt with the (No.) 9-hitter. We try to preach to our kids to handle the bat. It was nice to see that small-ball or skill-ball pay off for us."
With the infield drawn in, Foshee sent a bouncing ball through the right side to bring in the winning run.
"(Eckl) laid down a great bunt and we didn't handle it," said Sikeston coach Kevin Self. "They executed well when they had to. They're a good team. They're about like us. They play like we do. You give them opportunities, they'll take advantage. They played fundamental baseball. I tip my hat to them."
Sikeston's bats were silenced for most of the game by Blunt, although the Bulldogs did have numerous hard-hit balls, most of the time right at a Raider defender.
"It just seemed like every ball we hit was right at them," said Self. "I mean we hit a lot of balls on the nose right at them. That's just the way it goes. Sometimes things aren't meant to be and today it wasn't. We battled and we battled. I give credit to our club. We didn't quit. We sure didn't give it to them and we made it interesting."
North County, on the other hand, had the bats rolling from the start. They collected 13 hits on the day, 12 of which were singles.
Sikeston's Merideth started and was knocked around for 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He allowed four runs (three earned) with two strikeouts and no walks in getting the no-decision.
"They hit him pretty good -- I thought he battled with what he had -- he didn't have his best stuff today," said Self. "If he hung breaking balls they hit it, and if he tried to sneak fastballs up in the zone, they hit that too. They swung the bats well."
Said Yount, "I saw his numbers and I know he's a good pitcher. I'd take him on my staff any day of the week. We've been swinging the bats much better lately. It was nice to see us execute a good plan. We were able to move some baserunners and score just enough."
DeHart pitched in relief the rest of the way, allowing one unearned run off three hits. He struck out four and walked one in taking the loss.
The Raiders scored in the bottom of the first inning on a squeeze bunt by Eckl to bring in Dan Harris.
They made it 2-0 in the second inning on a run-scoring single by Harris.
Blankenship's solo home run to right field extended the lead to 3-0 in the fourth.
In the fifth, a throwing error allowed Peterson to reach base. He eventually scored on Eftink's single to centerfield to make it 4-0.
Sikeston had chances to score but some bad luck and an inability to get the timely hit proved to be costly.
One of those chances was in the top of the third with runners on first and third, but DeHart hit a sharp line drive that went right at the first baseman who stepped on the bag for the double play.
Blunt threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run off just two hits. He struck out six and walked two.
Foshee was the winning pitcher in 2/3 innings.
Harris led the Raiders offensively, going 3-4 with a RBI and a run. Peterson had two hits.
"It's a nice rivalry we've got going with these guys," said Self. "It's fun to play them. We know where we're at when we play them because traditionally they have a tough district to get through like ours."
Sikeston was led offensively by Landers, who went 3-4 with two RBIs. Bizzell and Scott had the Bulldogs' only other hits.
Bizzell's infield single tied his cousin Blake DeWitt for the school record for hits in a season at 51.
After the game, Self reflected on a season that was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year.
"I thought that this group was a group of overachievers," said Self. "I thought that they exceeded my expectations and what a lot of other people thought. I thought we'd be decent and competitive but we turned out to be really good, a lot better than I thought. I was really proud of them. Nine seniors, that's going to be real tough to replace. We won't have near as many experienced ball players and it will take us a while. We're going to miss these seniors.
"I thought they made their own mark on Sikeston baseball. They can never take that district championship away from them. We played well enough to win in the sectional game, but they got one more hit than we did and drove in one more run."