For the sixth straight year, the Sikeston Bulldogs were playing in the championship game, but this time the top-seeded Cape Central Tigers proved to be too much, winning 8-4 on Tuesday afternoon at Cape Central High School to win their first SEMO Conference Tournament championship.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at Capaha Field on Monday night, but inclement weather forced the game to be moved to Tuesday afternoon.
But despite the loss, Sikeston coach Kevin Self seemed plenty satisfied with his team's performance, not only on Tuesday, but in the tournament overall.
"What I'm most proud of, we battled in that last inning for every ounce, for every strike, all the way to the end," said Self, whose team was seeded seventh. "I'm proud of my kids. When we started this tournament, we were the seven seed, and you would've told me we were going to get to the championship game, I would've taken it."
Cape Central (17-4) hurler Brad LaBruyere limited the Bulldogs to six hits and was able to pitch around six errors the Tigers made behind him.
The junior righty threw all seven innings, allowing two walks and a hit batter to go against the four unearned runs he allowed.
"He throws pretty good, but we still hit him," said Self. "We beat him last year in the semifinals. We don't fear anybody and we're going to come to play. We had situations where we had people on but we couldn't get some of those hits to find the hole."
The Tigers jumped out to the lead in the first inning and never looked back.
Ty Craft, who was the top performer of the day going 4-4 with five RBIs and a home run, drove in Cape Central's first run with a single.
"He had four hits, five RBIs and he played a great shortstop," Cape Central coach Steve Williams said. "You want to see leadership from your seniors, and we've gotten that from Ty."
LaBruyere followed up with a run-scoring double and Tyler Bruce added a ground out-RBI to make it 3-0.
"That really helps," Williams said. "It makes your players better in the field and it lets your pitcher relax. Throughout baseball, so many times, it seems like whoever scores first usually wins."
The Tigers made it 5-0 in the bottom of the third when Craft doubled home a run and Chris Brotherton brought a run in with a sacrifice fly.
Sikeston (12-10) broke the shutout in the top of the fourth as Tiger first baseman Kory Kitchen had a tough inning, committing three errors, including two on the same play.
The miscues allowed Jerod Scott to score a run and kept the inning alive for an RBI-single by Nick Lambert to bring in Josh Jackson to make it 5-2.
The Tigers got a run back in the bottom of the fourth as Craft's RBI-single made it 6-2.
The Bulldogs missed a golden opportunity to potentially tie the game as the power-hitting Baker came to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth, but LaBruyere was able to induce a groundout to end the threat.
The Tigers picked up two more runs in the bottom of the sixth on Craft's two-run homer to make it 8-2.
Sikeston didn't go quietly in the seventh, however, as a two-out error kept the game alive for the Bulldogs.
A double by Jackson set up Tyler Baker's two-run double to cut the lead to 8
After a walk to Dustin Barker, Sikeston had the tying run on deck, but LaBruyere was able to get Chase Ferrell to fly out to end the game.
Scott was the losing pitcher for the Bulldogs, throwing all six innings and allowing eight runs off 11 hits with three walks.
Williams said the Bulldogs just making it to the championship game as the seventh seed speaks volumes.
"That's a credit to them," said Williams. "We got their best today. It was just a good game. Fortunately for us we were able to score a few more runs."
LaBruyere was pitching with just two days rest after throwing seven innings in the Tigers' semifinal game.
"He wants the ball," Williams said of LaBruyere. "He wants to be on the mound because he feels he can get it done. Early he was sharp. It was a little warmer today and he got a little tired, but once again he found a way to get out of a few innings and battled."
Sikeston didn't have any multiple hitters. Scott Droddy, Scott, Jackson, Baker, Ferrell and Lambert each had one hit.
The Bulldogs are 3-3 in the tournament championship game. They won three straight titles from 2002-04.
"I'm not going to be disappointed in any form or fashion in what we have been able to do to right our ship this year," said Self. "Because man we were having a tough year. My kids have grown up a lot in the last week and a half or two weeks. We've played six or seven games in a row now that we've been zoned in and focused and played really well. I thought this year that we probably wouldn't make it here, but look what's happened.
"Tradition kind of builds on tradition. We've always made it here and these kids didn't want to be left out. Six years in a row -- it'll be a while before that happens again. I mean, this is a tough conference, you're talking about 11 teams with the best teams in Southeast Missouri. There's some competition there."