Dunklin Co. rebounds for zone crown

Monday, August 5, 2002

If the American Legion Zone 4 Tournament proved one thing, it's that counting out Dunklin County is a big mistake.

After losing to Oakville in Friday's winner's bracket final, Dunklin County looked like a serious longshot to win the championship.

But that's exactly what the team from the Bootheel did when it stormed out of the loser's bracket with three straight victories, capped by Sunday's 12-10 triumph over Oakville at Capaha Field.

"I can't say enough about the job the kids did," Dunklin County manager Jamie Johnson said. "What an unbelievable effort."

Dunklin County (39-8) advances to the American Legion State Tournament that begins Thursday in Columbia.

Among a host of Dunklin County heroes, two stood out. And that was only fitting, since Nathan Baker and Dustin Pritchett were among the squad's leaders all season.

Baker, who will attend Southeast Missouri State University on a baseball scholarship, won the tournament's most valuable player award. He went 12-for-22 at the plate, with three triples and eight runs batted in. Also the team's ace pitcher, he fired a shutout in the opening round and worked the ninth inning Sunday to earn a save.

"This is an awesome feeling, going back to state," said Baker, who played on Dunklin County's 2000 team that won a state title and finished second in the regional. "We had so many guys step up."

Pritchett had to leave Saturday night's win over Oakville in the sixth inning after being spiked. The wound to his left arm required 15 stitches, but he was back on the field Sunday. He went 10-for-22 in the tournament, with a home run and five RBIs.

"In Nathan, SEMO is getting an outstanding young man and a great player," Johnson said. "And what can you say about Dustin's guts. To come back after that injury and play like he did is something."

Sunday, Pritchett went 4-for-4 with two doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. Baker was 3-for-5 with a double, a triple and four RBIs. Billy Palmer added two of Dunklin County's 14 hits.

Oakville (35-11) had 15 hits, led by Andy Hecht and Neil Graser with three each. Mike Merkel, Jason Pernicairo, Kyle Kolb and Colin Milligan each had two hits.

Jonathan Winston was the winning pitcher in relief as he allowed seven hits and six runs (three earned) in six innings. Winston was shelled for six runs in the fourth but then kept Oakville off the board until Baker relieved him to start the ninth.

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