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Season ends for SHS

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

(Photo)
Notre Dame's Shane Menz slides into home with the wining run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
SIKESTON -- Sikeston and Notre Dame have developed quite a baseball rivalry the last several years.

And fittingly, Tuesday evening's Class 3, District 1 semifinal game between the two teams had to be decided in extra innings at Sikeston's VFW Stadium.

When the smoke cleared, Sikeston's district dominance ended with, of all things, a wild pitch which allowed Notre Dame's Shane Menz to score the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 3-2 victory.

Second-seeded Notre Dame (18-6) advances to the district final to play top-

seeded Kennett (18-5) today at 4:30 p.m. at Sikeston. Kennett defeated Dexter 7-1 in the other semifinal game.

Notre Dame managed to score the winning run right after a bang-bang play at first went against Sikeston.

With one out and runners on first and second, Jordan Buchheit sent a screamer down the third base line only to see Sikeston's Cody Anderson make a spectacular diving stop.

He scrambled to tag third for the force out and fired an off-balance throw to first to try for the double play, but the throw barely pulled first baseman Tyler Baker off the bag.

Baker had to lay out for the throw. Heads up running by Menz allowed him to round second and make it to third.

"Oh my gosh what a catch," said Sikeston coach Kevin Self of Anderson's stab. "And I thought when he caught it, he had time for a double play. He stepped on it and that throw just pulled Tyler a little bit off the base. If it hadn't, that ended the inning."

As Sikeston hurler Jerod Scott worked a count with Luke Moll, a hard breaking ball went into the dirt and skipped a few feet past catcher Chase Ferrell.

Menz broke immediately and slid head-first into home as Ferrell's throw couldn't connect with Scott.

Notre Dame's players exploded out of the dugout to celebrate -- it's the team's first district victory against Sikeston since 2003's massive upset of the top-ranked Bulldogs.

"We teach our guys all year to be aggressive, see the ball and read balls in the dirt," said Notre Dame assistant Tim Garner, who was filling in for head coach Jeff Graviett after getting his jaw broken by an errant throw in Monday's first round game. "Shane got a good jump on it and it scooted by and he was aggressive. That's what we look for."

Self said Ferrell handled similar pitches well all season, including many times on Tuesday.

"It tells you what kind of confidence your pitcher has in you by throwing a breaking ball -- it wasn't a mistake," said Self. "That's where he's throwing it because he knows Chase is going to block it. I mean, 99 percent of the time, he's blocking that. How many did he block today? Over the course of the year? He's a sophomore, he's starting to throw the ball well and he's getting better and better. It didn't come down to that play. We had our chances to win it long before that play."

Third-seeded Sikeston was in control for much of Tuesday's game. Despite stranding 12 runners on base, the Bulldogs were able to seize a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Sikeston missed chances early, including leaving the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning. The Bulldogs finally broke the shutout in the top of the fifth on a one-out single by Baker to bring in Scott Droddy.

The Bulldogs couldn't cash in any more though as Ferrell grounded into a 5-3 double play.

Sikeston scored its other run in the sixth on Austin Williams' sacrifice fly to bring in Cody Black, who had doubled to lead off the inning.

But even though they managed a run in the sixth, the inning felt unfulfilled as they left two on base with one out with the top of the batting order coming up.

"When we had them 2-0 with first and second and one out, I felt like that was the time with the top of our order up," said Self. "But that kid (Mark Himmelberg) came in and made good pitches and got out of it. Jerod hit a line drive right at the centerfielder. He had some tough breaks. He hit some balls hard today that were right at people."

Notre Dame managed to get just one runner past second base up until the sixth inning.

Jacob Essner led off the inning with a single. After a fielder's choice, Menz lofted a fly ball into the left field gap, but Sikeston's Josh Jackson couldn't get the handle. Everybody was safe on the error as runners moved up to second and third.

Buchheit's groundout-RBI brought in Abe Dirnberger to cut the lead to 2-1.

Notre Dame tied the score in the bottom of the seventh. Jacob Wengert led off the inning by getting hit with a pitch. A sacrifice bunt by Chad Friend advanced the runner to second.

Jacob Valleroy then singled down the left field line to bring in Wengert to tie the game.

"We talked to our guys in the sixth inning about getting one run at a time," said Garner. "Be selective and get good pitches to hit. Scott threw a great game and seeing him the fourth time through, I was telling the guys, 'you've seen him a lot. You've hit him hard and some of these are going to fall.' We got some timely hits."

Sikeston had a good chance to score in the top of the eighth as Scott Droddy hit a two-out double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Scott then roped a hard liner to third base only to see right fielder Lucas Dirnberger snare the drive with a leaping catch.

Scott was saddled with the loss as he went the entire 7 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) off just five hits. He struck out two and walked three.

"He threw extremely well -- he threw well enough to win," said Self. "I felt like I needed to stay with him. I didn't want to go to somebody else. It was his game to win or lose. I felt like he earned the right to end the game if he wanted to."

Himmelberg picked up the win in relief, throwing 2 2/3 innings, allowing no runs and two hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

Kirk Boeller started for Notre Dame, throwing 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs off six hits with five walks and two hit batters.

"Kirk struggled a little bit with his control and got himself in some jams," said Garner. "He got himself out of some jams with big pitches but then also the defense stepped up occasionally. That's what you've got to do to beat a team like Sikeston."

Sikeston out-hit Notre Dame 8-to-5 and walked fewer. But the Bulldogs didn't have clutch hitting with runners in scoring position.

"We had chances to score -- we hit so many balls right on the nose that they make a jumping catch or it would be right at them," said Self.

Sikeston's Black went 2-3 with a double and a run. Droddy went 2-4 with double and a run.

Notre Dame's Jacob Essner went 3-4 while Valleroy went 2-3 to account for all of their team's hits.

"It's never an easy one when these two teams lock up," said Garner. "Sikeston and Notre Dame -- there's just been a few times when it hadn't really been a ballgame. Other than that it's a battle, tooth and nail each and every time. Districts has gone through these two teams the last few years with Sikeston having the better hand lately."

Sikeston, which had reached the district championship game six straight years, winning four, finishes its season at 14-11. It's the first time since 1999 the Bulldogs failed to reach the 20-win plateau.

But despite his team's struggles this year, Self felt his squad turned the season around after a 5-8 start.

"I've learned a lot with this season," said Self. "I think these kids gave me all they had. They got better and better all season. I thought we'd be better at the end, and we were. We probably ended up winning about what I thought we would. We were real close to getting back to the championship game. Most of this bunch is all coming back. All our pitching is coming back."

Sikeston will lose Baker, Black and Andrew Box to graduation.