Central, Jackson begin district play today

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Indians will be defending their Class 4 District 1 crown.

Sophomore Zach McDowell has been one of Jackson's top pitchers this spring, posting a 2.91 ERA in his first varsity baseball season.

And Indians coach Rob French has enough confidence in the young left-hander to start him in today's opening-round district game against Farmington.

"Over the course of the last few weeks, he has probably been our best healthy pitcher," French said. "And he's shown that in those big games he can handle the pressure very well."

No. 3 Jackson defends its Class 4 District 1 title in the upcoming days. The Indians play No. 6 Farmington today at 3 p.m., while No. 4 Central plays No. 5 De Soto at 12:30 p.m. at Wilson-Rozier Park in Farmington.

The winners advance to the semifinal round Monday. The district title game will take place at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Jackson (11-13) caught fire at the right time last year as the district's No. 4 seed, winning its first district title since 2005.

McDowell (2-1) rose to the challenge the last time he started a big game. That was a semifinal game against Central in the SEMO Conference tournament May 2. The southpaw threw a complete game against the Tigers, allowing one earned run while striking out seven.

French said senior Caleb Hosey likely would be the first reliever he would put into the game if McDowell struggles. Hosey is 4-4 with a 4.13 ERA.

"I would anticipate those two guys splitting that game [today], unless Zach is very strong throughout the game," French said.

French has stressed to his players that they must do a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position.

"Last several games we've had guys on in scoring position," French said. "We've had guys up with bases loaded and less than two outs, and we just haven't been able to come through. So for us to win, we're going to have to hit in the clutch. If we can get those runners across and play solid defense, I think Zach will give us a chance on the mound."

Central faces DeSoto

Central coach Steve Williams said the Tigers (14-9) and DeSoto (11-11) are evenly matched.

"They play pretty good competition up there," Williams said. "They've got a couple real good players. Kaileb Armbruster is an outstanding player. Neal Finch is an outstanding pitcher. I'm sure we'll see him."

Finch has a 3-4 record with a 2.10 ERA. Armbruster, meanwhile, is 4-4 with a 2.39 ERA.

Central will start ace Josh Meyer, who Williams said has posted a 4-3 record with an ERA near 2.00.

"Everybody will be in relief if we need it," Williams said. "At this point of the season, we have to have all hands on deck. But Josh will get the start and I'm sure he'll be ready. ... He did a lot of work over the summer and during the winter to prepare himself. He's really, really improved where he's made himself a good high school pitcher."

Williams was glad the weather held Thursday for his team to play Malden -- a game the Tigers won 11-1 -- after a stretch without any games because of rain.

"We had a five- or six-day layoff because of the weather, and I was really concerned about trying to get a game in [Thursday]," Williams said. "When we played Malden, I was really happy because that got us some game at-bats and got us back to game ready. Same things with our pitchers. We got a lot of pitchers work, so everyone should be sharp."

Different district

Class 4 District 1 has a new look as Fox, Hillsboro and Seckman have left the district. Jackson, Central and Poplar Bluff remain, while Sikeston, DeSoto, Farmington, Festus and North County are newcomers. Festus is the top seed, followed by North County and Jackson.

"There's a couple big differences," Williams said. "No. 1 is obviously the teams in it. We've got teams that have been in Class 3, like Festus, North County, Farmington and Sikeston. ... Probably the biggest is that we've got eight teams this year [instead of six]. So now everybody's going to have to win three games to get out. That makes it difficult on everybody, even the top seeds. They're going to have to find a way to get their pitching staff through three games."

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