(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
DEXTER -- After missing out on the playoffs last season, the Sikeston Bulldogs are hoping to once again rule Class 3, District 1.
The Bulldogs split the season series with Dexter, but it was the Bearcats that received the top seed in the district. Sikeston comes into the district as the No. 2 seed and will face No. 7 Doniphan tomorrow at noon at Dexter's East City Park.
Other first round games will see Dexter (16-5) versus No. 8 New Madrid County Central (3-13) at 6 p.m.; No. 3 Notre Dame (13-10) against No. 6 Perryville at 2 p.m.; and No. 4 Fredericktown against No. 5 Kennett (8-13) at 4 p.m.
"I expect it to be a very competitive district," said Sikeston coach Kevin Self. "I expect the 1 vs. 8 game to be as competitive as the 4 vs. 5 game. I don't think there's any dominant team, not just in this district, but in all of southeast Missouri."
Sikeston is 17-6 on the season and will be searching for its sixth district title since 1998. If the Bulldogs do win this year's district championship, they will clinch yet another 20-win season.
Prior to the 2000 season, Sikeston had never eclipsed 20 wins in a single season. But the Bulldogs won at least 20 games for six straight seasons until last year's 14-11 campaign.
The mark could've been a virtual lock had it not been for two teams canceling regular season games with the Bulldogs.
"We're not thinking about that -- all we're thinking about right now is district play," said Self of the 20 wins. "This is not the time of the year to look too far ahead. It's going to take three good, tough wins to win our district. I think we've got as good a shot as anybody. But I'm not counting anything until we play them and get that last out in the seventh."
While this year's Sikeston team has exceeded expectations of many in the area, including capturing its seventh SEMO Conference regular season championship in the last 10 years, they aren't favored in this year's district.
Dexter carries that distinction with its strongest season in recent memory, taking second in the conference while earning the top seed.
"They've earned that -- they've played real good baseball this year," said NMCC coach John Jones of Dexter. "We had a heck of a ballgame with them this past week, but Dexter has been the most consistent team in the district this year."
In the past several years the district was dominated by either Sikeston or Notre Dame. Kennett broke the trend last year with its first district title since 1997. Dexter will be shooting for its first district title since 1998.
Just to get an idea of how evenly matched this year's district is, NMCC, seeded eighth, fell just shy of pulling upsets against the top two seeds, Dexter (5-3) and Sikeston (3-0).
Dexter owes one of its losses to No. 6 Perryville. Also, third-seeded Notre Dame has split with Sikeston. Since moving up to Class 3 in 2003, Notre Dame has one district championship, coming that same year.
"Dexter, us and Notre Dame have all kind of beat up on each other," said Self. "I look at those three teams as the front-runners. But you've got a team like Fredericktown that's got some pitching that can sneak up on some people."
Jones agreed: "I think this year's much more balanced than in the past. The last five years has been Sikeston and Notre Dame. Dexter looks like the favorite this year. They start eight seniors. But I like our chances. We'll have our kids ready to go. We have some kids back that haven't been with us. Hopefully that will help us. It's going to come down to who can make the routine plays and who's pitchers are on."
The Bulldogs have not been a strong offensive team this year, forcing Self to play much more "small-ball" than he's been used to in the past.
But while the team hasn't scored a ton of runs, the squad has been solid on defense and on the mound.
"The key for us will be can we get the two-out hit with a runner in scoring position?" said Self. "Can we get the sacrifice bunts down? Can we make the routine plays? If we can't do those things then we won't win. We didn't win it last year and I think our guys are chomping at the bit to get that district plaque back on our side. I think our kids will come ready and I think we'll be ready to play."
Teams -- No. 1 Dexter, No. 2 Sikeston, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Fredericktown, No. 5 Kennett, No. 6 Perryville, No. 7 Doniphan, No. 8 New Madrid County Central
Schedule -- Monday, Sikeston vs. Doniphan, noon; Notre Dame vs. Perryville, 2 p.m.; Fredericktown vs. Kennett, 4 p.m.; Dexter vs. NMCC, 6 p.m.; Tuesday, semifinals; Wednesday, championship