The Sikeston Bulldogs may have taken a step in that direction with a gutsy come-from-behind 12-8 extra-inning win over the Notre Dame Bulldogs on Tuesday.
"I'm proud of my kids. They stayed to the task," said Sikeston coach Kevin Self. "We were down to a good ballclub late in the game and didn't roll over, didn't decide to pack it in. That's a big win."
Sikeston (9-9), scoring all 12 of its runs after two were out, rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 7-3 to score four in the top of the eighth inning for the victory.
"That's saying something about maybe we're starting to turn the corner a little bit," Self said.
In the eighth with the score tied at 8, Scott Droddy lofted a one-out opposite-field single just inside the left-field foul line.
After a flyout, Josh Jackson's pop fly to shallow centerfield fell in to put runners at first and second.
Notre Dame pitcher Anthony Wulfers pitched around dangerous No. 3 hitter Tyler Baker to load the bases. Baker had previously laced two hits in four at-
bats, including a three-run double.
Dustin Barker fought off a two-strike pitch, fisted it just over the pitcher's mound toward second base and beat the throw to first for an RBI-single, scoring Droddy with the eventual gamewinner at 9-8.
"With two strikes, we're just trying to battle and put it in play and, when you do, good things can sometimes happen," said Self.
Next up, Chase Ferrell greeted Notre Dame reliever Shane Menz with a two-
base hit in the gap in right-centerfield to plate three insurance runs for the final 12-8 margin.
"Chase got a big hit to nail it down because, if you get just one, they've got their big hitters coming up," said Self.
Cody Black, in relief of Droddy, set Notre Dame down in the home half of the eighth.
"Sikeston withstood the marathon today," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett. "In our conference and district races, you expect those kind of games. That's how tough our conference is."
The win evened the season series between the two teams at 1-1 and broke a six-game string of Notre Dame successes on their Senior Day.
"We haven't lost on Senior Day since I've been here," said Graviett.
Notre Dame (13-5) opened the scoring with two first-inning runs to quickly take a 2-0 lead.
Sikeston overtook their district rivals with three runs in the third.
After two were out, Droddy looped a single to left, then advanced to second on Jerod Scott's single to center.
Jackson beat out a bad-hop single to short to load the bases for Baker, who cleared the sacks with a double to the base of the fence in right-centerfield at the 350-foot sign.
Notre Dame, however, came right back with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
With the first three hitters aboard on singles, Sikeston starter Droddy fanned the next two batters, but two consecutive walks pushed the tying and leading runs across, then Kirk Boeller's three-run double down the right-field line lifted Notre Dame to a 7-3 advantage.
We could have rolled over at 7-3, but we bounced back and got five," said Self. "That's what I'm most proud of. We're young and we've been battling and battling and it seems like everything is going against us. All I've preached to them is stay the course, always compete, no matter what the score or situation could be. It may not go your way sometimes, but eventually it will."
It went Sikeston's way in the fifth as they scored five runs to retake the lead at 8-7.
Scott's single sandwiched between two groundouts preceded Baker being hit by a pitch. Barker blooped a single to center to score Scott, then Ferrell walked to load the bases for Black, who delivered with a two-run single to center field.
Back-to-back RBI groundball singles by Cody Anderson and Austin Williams completed the comeback.
"They got some timely hits and they hit the ball in the right spots at times," said Graviett.
But, Notre Dame was not finished, taking a page from Sikeston's book with a two-out run to tie at 8.
Jacob Essner led off with a hard-hit one hopper that shortstop Anderson couldn't handle, then stole second. Luke Moll walked but was was forced on a nice backhand stop and flip to second by Williams on a fielder's choice grounder, Essner moving to third.
Sikeston just missed turning a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning, but the Notre Dame runner beat the throw to first as Essner crossed the plate with the game-tying run.
A key play to preserve the 8-8 tie was turned in by Sikeston catcher Ferrell who threw out a stealing Notre Dame runner at second in the bottom of the seventh inning preceding a potential game-winning hit.
"One of the biggest plays was Chase (Ferrell) throwing that guy out in the seventh, because the next guy doubles down the line and the game's over," said Self. "He threw a strike and that was a big play."
Sikeston's 15-hit attack was led by Jackson's three hits, then two each for Droddy, Scott, Baker and Barker. Baker and Ferrell drove home three runs each; Barker and Black had two RBIs apiece.
Menz paced Notre Dame's 11-hit offense with three hits. Boeller collected two hits with a team-leading three RBIs.
Droddy went six innings, allowing eight runs -- seven earned -- on 10 hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
Black pitched one-hit ball for two scoreless innings to pick up the win. He walked one with no strikeouts.
Losing pitcher Wulfers went 7 2/3 innings, charged with 12 runs, all earned, on 14 hits with two strikeouts and four walks.
Graviett, mildly second-guessing his decision to stay with the senior Wulfers in the eighth inning, said, "It was Senior Day and I probably left him in a little too long but I wanted to give him a chance to win it."
No. 7-seed Sikeston hosts No. 10 Kelly on Thursday at 4 p.m. in the SEMO Conference Tournament while Notre Dame, the fourth seed, meets No. 5 Jackson on Friday.
"We want to play well in the conference tournament," said Self. "The balance of power is so equal, anybody can win. Cape Central has played well through the conference, but everybody else has a shot."