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From The Mean Streets Of Mound City

Playoffs. Playoffs! PLAYOFFS!?

The Missouri State High School Athletic Activities Association (hereby referred to as MSHSAA) is known for predictable playoffs in basketball and football. When a District tournament matches a hardwood powerhouse full of D1-level leapers against a .500 team (as is often the case), fans might as well visit the concession stand and take their time about it…because the result won’t be in doubt.

On the Missouri gridiron, dynasties rule the roost. Quasi-college programs such as Webb City enjoy traditions of winning that lure talented transfers on an annual basis, perpetuating their dominance in the Show-Me Bowl.

There are more surprises on the baseball diamond. Francis Howell won the Class 5 MSHSAA Championship in 2016 despite double-digit losses in the regular season. In 2015, Sullivan High School suffered through a miserable 8-13 campaign, warmed up by winning their District tournament, then amazingly reached the Class 4 final before losing 17-0 to Notre Dame.

But it could be hard for Cinderella to find room on the dance floor in 2017. Jefferson City, a Class 5 titan, has navigated a difficult schedule to emerge with only 2 losses. The Jays are currently ranked #14 in the entire United States by MaxPreps. In Class 4, Westminster Christian said goodbye to a long-time coach and hello to another wonderful campaign, winning 27 games in a row before losing 3-0 to Vianney on April Fool’s Day.

Can anyone challenge the aristocrats? Let’s look at a few other Missouri contenders before District tournaments begin later this week.

Valle Catholic is a small private school from eastern Missouri – and a bona-fide division killer. The student body is comprised of about 100 students, most of which are outstanding athletes. MSHSAA has done everything it can to level the playing field including moving the Warriors to Class 2 in baseball, but Valle plays to a high Class 3 level in sports. Valle baseball has won 3 state championships in a row and will be the prohibitive Class 2 favorite in 2017.

Poplar Bluff, known affectionately as “Bluff” to fans in southeast Missouri, is a Class 5 program which lost 4 of its first 5 games before going 18-1 the rest of the way. The Mules beat Notre Dame and Sikeston by a combined score of 12-4 in a split-doubleheader on May 6th, with Turner Fritts belting a 2-run homer in Game 1 and scholarship senior Ronin Rice pitching a complete game in the 2nd outing.

Perryville High School is notorious for sleepy record-keeping (a full PHS roster is an untold luxury, even in the press box) so we don’t know much about them – only that their skipper’s name is Jeff Steffens, and the 2017 team could surprise in Class 4. The Pirates (14-6) knocked off a strong Hillsboro team 4-1 on April 20th, and are enjoying an athletic resurgence after years of doldrums in most sports.

Valley Park, a suburban program located on the Meramec River, can be called the most exciting-to-watch prep baseball club in the St. Louis region. The Class 3 Hawks are 18-2 with legitimately scary batting numbers. Freshman Ethan Schmitt is hitting well over .500 with 33 RBIs, and has already been asked to join a Kansas City Royals scout team in 2020. Several Hawk upperclassmen are batting above .400, and Ethan’s older brother Austin owns a surreal .881 slugging % with 15 extra-base hits.

Ready to spit out your coffee? In a 4-game stretch from March 24th to April 8th, Valley Park out-scored its opponents 86 to 3.

Finally, defending Class 1 champion Bell City may be headed for a show-down with upstart Walnut Grove. The Varsity Tigers did not escape District 7 in 2016, but have beaten many larger schools with a combination of plucky offense, a deep pitching staff and rock-solid fielding in ’17. Outside of tournament play, the Tigers have not given up more than 4 runs in a contest.

Check back next week for a special Mean Streets preview of district-playoff hardball in western Kentucky, set to begin later in May.

 

by Mickey Mounds

Contributor, covering Missouri’s Bootheel and St Louis

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