Taking aim at Sikeston

Thursday, April 29, 2004

With a little more than two weeks remaining in the regular season, Sikeston's baseball team has been running away with the SEMO Conference crown.

But Sikeston, 14-1 overall and 7-0 in the SEMO Conference, hit a speed bump on Tuesday, dropping its first game of the season in a 5-3 loss to Notre Dame. The two teams, who have split a pair of games this season, could be on a collision course for Monday's SEMO Conference title game. Sikeston has the the No. 1 seed and Notre Dame is No. 2 for this weekend's tournament.

"We've never been in the conference tournament championship game, so that's our focus now," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said.

The tournament starts today and ends with the championship game set for 7:45 p.m. Monday.

Ninth-seeded Scott City (5-6) will play No. 8 New Madrid County Central (2-7) in the tournament opener at 6 p.m. today at Capaha Park with the winner meeting top seed Sikeston on Friday. Seventh-seeded Kelly (4-5) will play No. 10 Chaffee (3-11) in the other play-in game today at 8 p.m. at Capaha Park, with the winner matched against Notre Dame on Friday.

Notre Dame, which enters the tournament 12-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play, should have plenty of confidence heading into the tournament. The Bulldogs have won four games in a row and have accounted for Sikeston's last two losses dating back to last season.

"I think we're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Graviett said. "Of course Tuesday's win was a huge win which will give us a lot of confidence."

Jackson grabbed the third seed with a 4-2 conference record and 10-4 overall record. The Indians have had several big wins this season, including back-to-back wins over North County and Notre Dame. Jackson's pitching has been a strong point this season, and the Indians' defense has also been steady night in and night out.

"We've been really stressing that this year," Jackson coach Rex Crosnoe said, "especially defense, which at times we have struggled with. But we've had good pitching and our hitters have been doing well. We have been playing really well as a team."

The Indians will get their first look at rival Central on Friday, as the Tigers drew the No. 6 seed. Central (5-10, 3-4) has had its share of struggles this season but has played better ball lately.

"I know they were struggling early, but they've been playing much better," Crosnoe said of Central. "I know they're going to be a tough six seed."

No. 4 Dexter (8-4) and No. 5 Poplar Bluff (8-8) will play on Friday in the other quarterfinal matchup.

Graviett said with the balance in the conference he expects it to be a good weekend for baseball.

"I think it's going to be a fun tournament," he said.

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171

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