South Callaway faces top-ranked Portageville in Class 3 baseball state semifinals

South Callaway's Dane Daugherty connects with a pitch for an RBI single during the fourth inning of the Class 3 sectional game against Dixon on May 23 at South Callaway High School in Mokane. (News Tribune/Kyle McAreavy)

The South Callaway Bulldogs are heading to state for the first time since 2017, and they'll hope to win it all like they did that season.

"You're gonna come out, and you're going to treat every game like it's the biggest game because it is, right?" South Callaway coach Heath Lepper said. "You gotta get past this one in order to get to that next one for the championship game."

Before the Final Four, South Callaway is outscoring opponents 22-10 this postseason, plating six in three of its four games. South Callaway scored five of its six against North Callaway and Dixon in the second inning.

"Everybody has contributed at some point along the way, whether it's an insurance run by JT (Thomas) in the Elsberry game or a senior all the way down to (Chase) Mealy in the semifinals; I think he had two hits," Heath Lepper said. "And you got another sophomore, Tucker Jones, two big hits in districts."

Minus the Elsberry game when it allowed five runs, South Callaway has given up no more than two in postseason contests, and its least allowed is one to Dixon.

"Between (Ryan) Lepper and (Jacob) Martin, they've been spot on," Heath Lepper said. "Just battled the entire time they were on there and gave us quality starts."

In the state semifinals, South Callaway (23-7), ranked No. 5 in Class 3 by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association, will play a team higher than it in the state rankings for the first time this postseason, facing the tied for top-ranked Portageville Bulldogs (34-2) at 10 a.m. today at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark.

In the regular season, the Bulldogs went undefeated in the always-tough Show-Me and beat last season's Class 1-3 state champions.

South Callaway has lost back-to-back games twice, and after the last of two straight defeats, when it lost to Hermann on April 18, the Bulldogs have gone 14-2.

"In the very beginning, they were focused," Heath Lepper said. "They were they worked their everliving tails off to get here. And now it's paid off, and we got two more games."

Portageville's state playoff run nearly ended in sectionals when it won 6-5 on an Owen Roberts -- made his first appearance in a month and a half -- RBI single in the bottom of the eighth versus unranked Scott City. However, it rebounded with an 8-4 victory against No. 7 West County in the quarterfinals.

Leading Portageville's offense, Jayquan Bogan has a team-high .463 batting average, Thomas Frakes 42 RBI and Ronald Adams three home runs and 14 extra-base hits.

"They're kind of like we are; they got a little pop at the top, and they're scrappy one through nine," Heath Lepper said.

Donney Benthal is Portageville's ace. This season, he is 11-1 with a 1.84 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 57⅔ innings.

"They got a power arm (Benthal), which is comparable to (Jacob) Martin; he's got a good hook," Heath Lepper said.

Frakes is a secondary choice; he's 6-0 with a 1.63 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 43 innings.

"(Frakes) doesn't quite necessarily have the velocity that their No. 1 does," Heath Lepper said.

A third option is Warren, who is 5-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 33 innings.

"(Warren), he'll pitch you backwards a lot with a lot of off-speed stuff and then try to finish it off with fastballs," Heath Lepper said.

South Callaway hasn't decided who it will pitch.

Martin, who will play at McKendree University next season, has an 8-2 record this year with 60 strikeouts and a 1.20 ERA in 64⅓ innings. He earned complete-game victories against Elsberry and Hermann in his two postseason starts.

"He's done it from the very beginning of the year, and he's shown he's a competitor," Heath Lepper said. "He does have that kind of that next level, that live arm, so he can keep guys and get in on their hands a little bit with the speed that he's got."

An alternative is Ryan Lepper, who recorded wins against Dixon and North Callaway this postseason. He's 6-1 this spring with 43 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA in 50 innings.

"Ryan's been able to throw one complete game (in the postseason)," Heath Lepper said.

Another option, Dane Daugherty, is 5-1 with 36 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA in 39⅓ innings.

"Dane Daugherty is kind of our No. 2 guy; he's more of our off-speed guy. We've had the ability to rest his arm, which is always big going into the postseason."

At the plate, Martin drove in three of South Callaway's runs against Elsberry in the state quarterfinals and has a team-high .366. He also has 12 extra-base hits and 27 RBI.

"He's a tough out, and he kind of sets the tone," Heath Lepper said. "You always want that guy at the top of the lineup that sets that tone that's gonna fight and get the job done out there."

Ryan Lepper is also a standout at the plate; he is hitting .449 with a team-high 15 extra-base hits and is tied with Owen Rees for a team-high 28 RBI.

"(Ryan Lepper's) been our most consistent hitter all year long from the beginning," Heath Lepper said.

"Owen's another one of our three-year starters that he's no stranger to big-hitting situations. He's consistently got it done not just this year but in years past."

The second semifinal game is at 1 p.m. today between eighth-ranked Licking (25-6) and receiving votes Barstow (23-6).

"I know Harv (Antle) down at Licking, a good friend of mine," Heath Lepper said. "Very active in our coaches' association. He was in Iberia for a while, and he's been at Blair Oaks. He's been down at Licking; I think about 10 years.

"So I know Licking, in particular, they're a well-coached ballclub. They hit a ton. He's got a couple of really, really good arms down here. I think his boy is still playing, so I'm really happy for Harv to get down here to the Final Four."

The semifinal losers will play for third place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and the winners will play for a state title at 1 p.m.

"We'll come out, give everything we got and worry about one game at a time," Heath Lepper said.