As Sumrall coach Andy Davis stood in the third base box during the first game of the state championship series, all he began to think about was the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
It’s understandable given that his Bobcats, who had lost one game all season, were down by four runs in the seventh inning.
The Bills, of course, are most famous for being the team that reached the Super Bowl for four consecutive years but never won. To Davis, in that moment, it seemed that Sumrall was on track to lose its third straight state championship.
“It was all in my head,” Davis said. “I was standing in the third base box thinking, is this really going to happen again. I’m thinking of the Buffalo Bills about how they went to the Super Bowl four times in a row and lost. Am I the Buffalo Bills? I’m soul searching in the third base box. Why can’t we win in Trustmark Park?
“Then we start doing some good things and then some bad, and it’s the whole rollercoaster. It was the seventh inning, I kind of prayed and I asked if we could make this a closer game or let us play the way we usually do. We got out of the dugout, and I said, ‘Let’s go back to what we do. Take and create base runners. You can hit a grand slam with nobody on base.’ We started getting people on base and put pressure on them.”
Sure enough, Davis helped the Bobcats not only overcome high expectations and lead them to a 29-0 start, but the Bobcats came up with a five-run rally to set up Sumrall’s first state championship in seven years. Davis’ efforts earned him the honor of Pine Belt Sports Baseball Coach of the Year for the second straight season.
With so much of his team returning from last year’s runner-up group, Davis admits it was hard not to feel the pressure to win.
“I want to be the poor mouth guy and say we lost Kros Sivley, Hayden Nored, Ty Little, Hayden Barrett and all those guys that are playing in college. I’m trying to make it easy, and then they come back with, ‘Well, oh coach, you have all these seniors. Y’all will still be fine. We’ll win state this year.’
“The expectation for Sumrall is always there. I tell people I’m glad we won. There’s not a better feeling, but I also felt relief when it was over. This town has been waiting for (a championship) for seven years. Coming short in ‘19 and ‘21, it just sucks to go all the way there and lose. It’s awesome to coach in a place like this, but then at the same time, how do you handle (those expectations)? That’s part of the profession.”
The Bobcats added higher expectations for themselves as they held the unbeaten record, which led to Sumrall being ranked as high as No. 2 in the national high school baseball rankings. However, Sumrall’s lone loss came during the South State championship and left the Bobcats being just one game away from coming up short, but Davis believes the loss to Greene County helped take pressure off his team.
“It got to be almost a little stressful to try and keep the streak going that we forgot what everything was about,” Davis said. “We didn’t have to worry about that in the first game of the state championship. But I think if we were undefeated at that time, I think it would have made things tougher.
“If they would not have beat us in that game then I don’t think we come back in that first game of the state championship and win. I think that loss to Greene County took some pressure off us. But I hate that and wish we were undefeated.”
But now, looking back, in just his first two seasons at the helm, Davis has now won an absurd 66 games and lost just six.
“Losing six games in two years is unbelievable,” Davis said. “Honestly, I feel fortunate. A good coach is all about good players. If you don’t have good players and you don’t have good support, then most likely, that formula is not going to work into winning games. I’m thinking about next year as soon as we won it, and everybody else is too.
“I couldn’t be more proud of (the kids). I like the fact that I’m in a fraternity of coaches that have won a state championship. But for these seniors, I’m glad they got a chance to put themselves in the history book at Sumrall on top of winning a championship.”