With two area teams making it to the final eight or beyond in the state baseball playoffs and several players having banner seasons, choosing the best of the best was hard, to say the least.
So, for the first time in the four-year run of the Dandy Dozen Baseball Team, the Daily Dunklin Democrat is honoring three local athletes as Players of the Year -- Cooter's Aaron McCaig, Heath Horvath of Senath-Hornersville and Holcomb's Corbin Clark.
McCaig capped his high school baseball career by leading the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish at the MSHSAA Class 1 Baseball Championships and also by repeating as the Tri-County Conference Player of the Year. He has been one of the area's best pitchers and hitters throughout his four-year high school career.
"Aaron's a bulldog," Dunklin County Post 303 manager Jamie Johnson, who has coached McCaig in summer ball the last two seasons, said. "He's a great competitor and always wants the baseball. He makes most of his talent. ... He always wants the ball in a big game."
Clark and McCaig faced off against each other all four years of high school, twice in the district finals.
"It's been an honor to compete with Aaron for so long," said Clark. "Despite being from rival schools, I have more respect for Aaron than anyone I've played against, and I couldn't begin to count the times we have faced each other both on the mound and at the plate."
Meanwhile, Clark carried a young Holcomb team as the squad's lone senior, helping the Hornets finish 11-12. He batted .553 with 17 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 23 games, while winning five of Holcomb's 11 games on the mound.
"Corbin's steady and a good ballplayer," said Johnson. "He does things right. ... He did a great job for them this spring -- he really stepped up and made great plays."
Said Clark: "Even though I've been on more talented teams, I've never been more proud of a group of guys than this one. Despite facing some pretty overwhelming odds, we were able to scratch and claw our way to a nearly .500 season and a berth in the conference championship game."
Horvath has words of praise for Clark and McCaig.
"They are both very competitive players," said Horvath, who has played on teams with both in the summer. "And it's always exciting playing them both."
Meanwhile, Horvath was a key force on the Lions' first district title team since 2000. He hit .479 with five home runs and 25 RBIs while compiling a 4-2 record with a 1.83 earned-run average on the hill. He also struck out 65 batters in 42 innings.
All of this while catching when he wasn't on the mound.
"One of the only things I will not miss about high school baseball is being on the mound when Heath steps in the box," Clark said. "He has the rare ability to take a good pitch and still make you pay."
Johnson, who is also the assistant baseball coach at Senath-Hornersville, also has words of praise for Horvath.
"He's got a lot of talent," said Johnson. "He's a great teammate and does a great job at any spot you put him. He's a solid baseball player and does a great job for us at plate and on the mound."
McCaig has words of respect for Clark's and Horvath's abilities.
"They both are really good," said McCaig. "If you're not on top of your game, they will beat you."
Joining Clark, Horvath and McCaig on the Dandy Dozen are the Kennett quartet of Trey Bazzell, Gage Blue, Logan Dollins -- the dozen's lone freshman -- and Andy Lack; Senath-Hornersville's Ben Salas; the South Pemiscot duo of Aaron Booker and Tyler Thompson; Parker Watkins of Cooter; and Campbell's Cale Weeks.
Earning honorable mention for the Dandy Dozen are Cooter's Logan Edwards and Jonathan Boone; Cameron Wallace, Adam Grantham and Clayton Gibbons of Kennett; Jordan Carter of South Pemiscot; Malden's Craig Jones; and Skyler Carnell of Hayti.