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Friday, May 26, 2017

Smith's walk-off hit in the 10th gives Sikeston baseball team Class 4, District 1 title over Notre Dame

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

(Photo)
Sikeston players celebrate after defeating Notre Dame in the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO. -- Sikeston's Trey Smith wasn't having the greatest day at the plate.

The senior was retired four-straight times to start the game and finally reached base in the top of the eighth when he was hit by a pitch.

It was an atypical outing for Sikeston's lead off hitter, who has reached base safely in all 20 games this season.

(Photo)
Sikeston's Payton Howard is congratulated by teammate Trey Smith after scoring a run in the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
But Smith's day turned in an instant when top-seeded Sikeston needed that big hit that had eluded them the last three innings to put away Notre Dame during the Class 4, District 1 championship Tuesday night at Notre Dame High School in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Freshman Payton Howard continued his stellar day at the plate with a clutch, lead off triple and Smith followed with a walk-off single to end an action-packed, 10-inning marathon.

Smith's hit gave Sikeston an 8-7 win and their first district championship since 2007.

"I think I put a little extra pressure on myself for sure thinking that I had to come up in those big moments," Smith said about his previous at-bats. "I just tried to stay as confident as I could and in that last at-bat I finally got that big hit."

It was a poetic moment for Sikeston fans watching their Bulldogs storm the field in victory. It was four years ago when Sikeston lost an extra-inning, district title game to Notre Dame on the same field. The 2013 season was also the last time before Tuesday that Sikeston had a chance to win a district.

"This is a fun game. Baseball is just a fun game," said Sikeston coach Brett Kolons, who was an assistant during Sikeston's 2013 loss to Notre Dame. "Playing 10 innings against a quality opponent is really an unreal feeling."

Sikeston (14-6) benefitted from being the home team on Notre Dame's field during a game that had the sense of whoever had the last at-bat had the best chance at a victory. Sikeston earned that right after defeating Notre Dame 5-4 during the regular season, which ultimately gave them the district's top seed.

"It really kind of goes back to that game we lost at their place," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "I knew that game would be huge and would dictate a lot of seedings. That's a big thing being the home team at the end of the year."

Sikeston could have avoided the 10-inning dramatics if it could have closed out Notre Dame in the bottom of the seventh.

(Photo)
Notre Dame's Winston Welter slides under the tag of Sikeston's Will Pratt to tie the game in the top of the seventh inning of the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
Sikeston scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to untie a 4-4 game when Howard poked a single through the infield to score Max Ault. A two-RBI single from Wyatt Pratt later in the inning made it 7-4 and gave Sikeston a three-run cushion in the seventh with just three more outs to get.

Will Pratt entered to close out Sikeston's newfound three-run lead in the top of the seventh, but hit a snag when Notre Dame tied the game during a defensive collapse from Sikeston.

Notre Dame, who rallied from five runs down to pull out a win against Perryville in the semifinal on Monday, was looking for ways to pull out their fifth-straight district championship and nearly found it when Sikeston's third passed ball of the inning allowed Winston Welter to score the tying run with two outs.

Garrett Siebert, who torched Sikeston pitching for three hits and five RBIs, had the only hit during Notre Dame's seventh inning upswing. They otherwise scored runs on an error at first and Sikeston's third passed ball.

"We battled back yesterday so I wasn't too nervous when they went ahead early," Graviett said. "As good as they are offensively they put a little bit of a scare into us, but we settled in. We chipped away and got some runs."

The next three innings were filled with tense moments while each team tried to push across the potential winning run.

Sikeston had a golden chance in the bottom of the eighth when they loaded the bases with one out, but Notre Dame reliever Austin Dill coaxed a fly out and struck out Bryce Bays to keep the game going.

(Photo)
Sikeston's Will Pratt throws a pitch to a Notre Dame batter in the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
For Notre Dame, after tagging reliever Will Pratt for three runs in the top of the seventh, their offense went stale against Sikeston's sidearmed righty.

At one point, Will Pratt retired seven in a row and never allowed a runner to reach second base in the final three innings.

He struck out the side in the top of the 10th, giving Sikeston a little extra fuel to start the fateful bottom half of the inning.

Will Pratt earned the win after four innings of relief. The junior gave up three runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks while striking out five on 70 pitches.

"It's amazing. I can't believe it," Will Pratt said about the win. "I just had to throw strikes and let my defense go to work. I have full faith in our defense, 100 percent."

Howard's leadoff triple in the 10th was tough for Notre Dame left fielder Nick Lindsey to judge. The hard-hit ball was right at Lindsey, who looked to be in between a dive and staying on his feet for the catch.

As Lindsey fell to the ground, Howard's hit sailed over his head and rolled all the way to the fence giving the speedy Howard plenty of time to reach third.

"It's a tough situation," Graviett said. "We don't play a lot under the lights and it wasn't a lighting situation, but it's something you have to get used to. In a big moment a ball is moving on him and he's coming in on it. I don't know how close he was to it, but he had a chance to make that play and he didn't. That's how it is. You have to give [Sikeston] credit for putting the ball in play."

It was the third hit of the game for the freshman, who first made a name for himself with the Sikeston basketball team. Howard had two RBI singles beforehand and didn't waver in some of the biggest moments of his young baseball career.

(Photo)
Sikeston's Payton Howard connects with a pitch against Notre Dame in the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
"I just wanted to get it started and have a good at-bat like coach always tells us to," Howard said. "I just wanted a solid hit on the ball and do what I can do."

"He's been in big situations before, not necessarily in baseball, but with basketball," Kolons said. "Putting him into this district championship game I had all the confidence in the world that he was going to come through and compete. I'd like to say that I was surprised but that's the expectation."

It wasn't really a pressure-packed situation according to Howard, who had his fill of those during Sikeston's playoff run in basketball.

"Not really. In basketball, it's a lot bigger atmosphere so I'm experienced with that. It didn't really effect me at all," said Howard.

Smith later hammered a 2-2 fastball past Notre Dame's Welter at shortstop, sending all of Sikeston's bench sprinting towards him at first to celebrate the win.

"I knew [Dill] had an excellent breaking ball, so I told all our guys to hunt the fastball," Smith said. "I knew after he threw me a breaking ball that a fastball was coming and I drove it the best I could."

Sikeston came out swinging early against Notre Dame starter Noah Brown. The red Bulldogs put up three runs in their half of the first, highlighted by a two-run home run by Bryce Bays and an RBI double from Wyatt Pratt.

(Photo)
Sikeston players rush to mob Trey Smith (11) after he delivered the game-winning hit to defeat Notre Dame 8-7 in 10 innings in the Class 4, District 1 championship game Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
They added one run in the fourth after a single from Howard.

Wyatt Pratt, the older brother of Will Pratt, was in line for the win before Notre Dame's rally in the seventh. He gave up four runs on three hits and four walks while striking out four on 92 pitches during the start.

"He battled," Kolons said. "We talked about taking this game one pitch at a time and he did that today."

Dill, who entered for Brown in the sixth inning, was tagged with the loss after four innings of relief. He gave up four runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out three on 90 pitches.

Garrett Siebert added an RBI single to make it 7-5 during that seventh inning to cap a three-hit, five RBI day at the plate. Siebert's biggest hit came in the top of the sixth when his two-run home run to right field tied the game at four.

"We relied on him all year offensive," Graviett said. "He's been our best hitter from day one and carried us through. He gave us what you'd expect out of a senior at this time of the year."

Notre Dame's four-year reign as district champions ended. They also ended their season with a 15-10 record and going out in an instant classic against one of their biggest rivals.

"I didn't expect anything less," Graviett said. "When our two teams get together in this magnitude at the district championship level it just seems like you're going to get an instant classic. Just a fun game. We had our opportunities and I told our guys that's all you can ask for. We had chances to come up with the game, we just came up a little bit short."

Sikeston moves on to the Class 4 sectional round where they will take on the District 2 winner between Potosi and Festus. Sikeston will host sectionals on May 23. A start time has not been decided.

"Every game from here on out is going to be just like this game," Kolons said. "Getting into this situation early, I think is going to help us move on the future."

Notre Dame 002 002 300 0 -- 7 6 3

Sikeston 300 103 000 1 -- 8 10 2

WP -- Will Pratt. LP -- Austin Dill. 2B -- Garrett Siebert (ND), Will Pratt (S), Wyatt Pratt (S), Nate Self (S). 3B -- Payton Howard (S). HR -- Siebert (ND), Bryce Bays (S). Multiple hitters: Notre Dame -- Ben Womack 2-4, Siebert 3-5. Sikeston -- Wyatt Pratt 3-5, Howard 2-3.