Dunklin carries top seed in district

Monday, July 17, 2006

Third-seeded Jackson will have a unusually tough road to the title.

Dunklin County, which ranks annually among the top American Legion teams in District 14, will enter the district tournament as the top seed and favorite this year, but controversy over the pairings has already created a buzz as the tournament begins Tuesday at Chaffee.

Top-seeded Dunklin County will get a first-round bye for the second straight year.

But from there, the schedule for the five-team double-elimination tournament veers in an odd direction, in the opinion of host coach Tom Dirnberger.

Instead of pitting the No. 4 seed against the No. 5 seed for the right to play No. 1, while Nos. 2 and 3 seeds meet for a spot in the winner's bracket final, this year's tourney has the No. 2 facing No. 5 and No. 3 facing No. 4.

With the way the bracket is set up, No. 3 Jackson would play more games than No. 5 Sikeston if either teams marched unbeaten to the district title.

"There's no way Jackson should have to play four games as a No. 3 to win a district," Dirnberger said. "That's stupid."

Dirnberger, who coaches Scott County Post 369, said the scheduling -- American Legion state director and district chairman Homer Dickmann is in charge of the bracket -- took more than three hours to get through.

"This is the way American Legion baseball is played," Dickmann said. "It's the way the brackets have always been set up. They'll just have to keep on grumbling. Hopefully the boys will understand rules are rules."

Dickmann said the nature of a five-team format forces one team to play more games.

"The brackets are not made by me," Dickmann said. "They've been used for years."

However the schedule plays out, Dunklin County is still the team to beat after finishing 3-1 in district play. Scott County (3-1) drew the No. 2 seed after losing the tie-breaker to Dunklin County on its head-to-head meeting, and will play No. 5 Sikeston (0-4). Jackson and Cape both finished 2-2 in district play, but Jackson won the meeting between the two teams for the No. 3 seed.

"I think Dunklin County's still the favorite because annually they're stronger than everyone else," Cape Girardeau Post 63 coach Dave Meyr said.

Added Dirnberger: "Dunklin County's still the team. They have the best swinging team there is. You just have to play smart."

The winner of the district tournament will move on to the zone tournament hosted by Eureka.

Jackson, the defending district champion, and Cape Ford & Sons both advanced to the zone tournament last year since Jacskon was the host. Both squads lost key starters and feature young lineups.

After earning back-to-back trips to the zone tournament, which were the first zone appearances for Jackson, the early summer brought its share of struggles.

Brandon Cooper, Chad Minson and Austin Morrison are among the few veterans on this year's squad. Jackson's younger players have improved over the second half of the season, as Post 158 finished with a 20-21 record.

"I'm excited," Jackson coach Mark Lewis said. "I'm always excited about district time, as a coach and as a player. I can't explain it. I enjoy that. It's an exciting time. That's why you play the 40 games."

Lewis expects pitching to be Jackson's strength.

"We've got a Morrison kid who's a three-year guy. He's got some experience," Lewis said. "This is his third time in district, and he's been in the zone the last two years. I think pitching's got to be our strength in order to win it.

"Our offense has improved over the summer. It took a while to figure out who we wanted where within our lineup."

Ford & Sons is led by a pitching staff with former Notre Dame aces Kirk Boeller and Jeremy Brinkmeyer, along with Central graduate Lance Young. Offensively, Cape is led by Ty Craft, Blake Slattery, Young and Brinkmeyer.

"I think our pitching will be our strong point," Meyr said. "If we play good defense, we'll have as good a shot as anyone. Offensively, we're not as strong as last year, but we have some good sticks in the lineup."

Ford & Sons has struggled down the stretch, dropping eight straight at one point and closing with 11 losses in its last 12 games.

"Our season hasn't gone as well as we'd hoped it would, but that's just one of those things, though," Meyr said. "That's the thing with young kids: You never know who's going to step up and have a good game or a good stretch of three or four games. This time of season, you have a good stretch of three or four games and you'll be in the zone."

Scott County experienced plenty of early success this summer in the program's second year -- many of the players were on the team that won the Legion junior district title in 2004 -- but has had its own share of struggles late in the season. The lineup is led by Advance's Trenton Moses, while Kelly graduate Jon Simpher leads the pitching staff.

Post 369 has lacked depth at times late in the season, with one its top players (Caleb Daughetee) leaving the team to begin his commitment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

But Dirnberger said he thinks his pitching can give the team a shot at the district title.

"I think our pitching is really pretty strong between Andy [Stephens] and Jon Simpher, Moses and Lucas [Dirnberger]," Tom Dirnberger said. "Your pitching takes you through a district, not hitting. I feel pretty confident."

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