PEARL – The tears and sad faces told the story for Sumrall Saturday afternoon.
The Bobcats’ hopes for the school’s sixth state title in baseball went down in flames against West Lauderdale in a 5-2 defeat in the second game of the Class 4A championship series at Trustmark Park.
West Lauderdale (31-6) won its state-best 15th state championship with the sweep in the best-of-three game series. Sumrall finished 31-5 after losing consecutive games for the first time this season.
“We didn’t play very well,” Sumrall coach Andy Davis said. “They kept us off-balance pitching-wise. They have a very good team. They hit the ball through the order, and their catcher calls a very good game.
“It was tough going two weeks between games. I look for the MHSAA to see if they can fix a few things, so we don’t have this in the future.”
In the end, Sumrall was done in by mental mistakes and untimely errors. The Bobcats committed two errors in the field, had several other uncharacteristic lapses at critical moments and were dogged by some bad luck.
And it started right from the beginning. The first batter to face Sumrall senior right-hander Hayden Nored, Leighton Jenkins, smacked a double down the leftfield line.
After a strikeout, Brooks Buchanan was hit by a pitch. Both runners advanced on a groundout to first base, but it looked like Nored might get out of trouble when he got a ground ball to shortstop. But the ball was booted and both runners scored.
In the bottom of the first, Hayden Barrett drew a leadoff walk and took second on a hit-and-run comebacker to the mound. But Marshall Phillips rapped a sharp liner to second base, and Barrett was doubled-up before he could get back to the base.
“(Wilkerson) pitched backwards on us,” Phillips said. “We struggled with him at first. We tried to put the ball on the ground. Yesterday, we hit a lot of balls in the air that were easy outs. When we put the ball on the ground, we made things happen.”
The Knights made it 3-0 in the second.
West Lauderdale put the first two runners on with a walk to Tanner Parker and a single by Braden Epting, but Sumrall was able to get the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt. But a passed ball allowed Epting to reach third and he scored on a sacrifice fly from Jenkins.
“Fifteen feels great,” West Lauderdale coach Jason Smith said, who took over the program after longtime coach Jerry Boatner retired at the end of the 2018 season.
“I’m super proud of our players, and I’m so happy for the community. Our coaches did just a great job all year. It’s wonderful.”
Sumrall had a golden opportunity against Knights’ starter Cole Wilkerson in the bottom of the second.
Nored led off with a single and was balked to second. Wilkerson got a groundout, but a single by Ty Little and a walk to Levi Odom loaded the bases, and a run scored when Walker Long was hit by a pitch.
But Wilkerson got a strikeout and a flyout to end the inning with the bases loaded.
“I should have given props to their pitcher last night,” Davis said. “And their guys today were great.
“We just couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it. Then we kicked it around there and let two runs score. Take those away, and it’s a one-run game, and we’re able to more of the things we like to do.”
It was West Lauderdale that had a chance to break it open in the third, when Buchanan led off with a single and Brett Busbea reached on an error in the infield.
With runners on second and third, Sumrall finally got some good luck when Mason Willis smoked a ball right into the glove of Odom at third base. He stepped on the bag to complete a double play, and Nored got a strikeout to get out of trouble.
“I had command issues at first, but for the most part, I thought I was hitting my spots,” said Nored (3-1). “The strike zone was kind of small, and I didn’t overcome that as well as I should have. They just barreled-up some good pitches. That’s hats off to them.”
Nored wasn’t so lucky in the fourth, and once again, it was a leadoff baserunner that came around to score. Parker led off the inning with a walk, stole second, took third on a flyball to deep leftfield and scored on a wild pitch.
“We’ve been traditionally known to play small ball, but this year our identity has been to play for the big inning,” Smith said. “But in this big ballpark, we knew that runs were at a premium, so we manufactured runs more than we’ve been used to.”
After Sumrall put two runners on with a walk to Odom and a single by pinch-hitter Brycen Smith, the Knights went to the bullpen for junior right-hander Dylan Brown. He gave up a long fly ball to Barrett, but Buchanan in centerfield was able to track it down for the third out.
“Cole did a great job to get through four innings,” Smith said. “I could tell he was starting to get tired. Dylan throws a lot of strikes, and that’s what we needed at the time. He did a tremendous job. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Brown subsequently retired the next eight batters he faced. Wilkinson (7-2) allowed four hits, struck out three and walked two.
Nored (3-1) pitched into the fifth, before allowing back-to-back singles to Willis and pinch-hitter Commodore Cole with two out. That’s when Davis turned to junior right-hander Andrew Knight, and he got a strikeout to keep the Knights off the scoreboard.
“He didn’t get many breaks,” Davis said. “He pitched pretty well. He gave us five good innings, gave up four runs and two of them were unearned. Then Andrew came in and shut the door for us a little bit.
“I’m pleased with the way we pitched. It just came down to hitting, and we didn’t get the big hit.”
West Lauderdale got an insurance run in the top of the seventh, again thanks to a mistake by Sumrall, a dropped third strike to Jackson Parker, who stole second and scored on a single by Buchanan.
The run came in handy, as the Bobcats were finally able to string a couple of hits together in the bottom of the seventh.
Brown got two quick outs, but Barrett drew a walk and Hayes Raner followed with a single. Phillips then drove in a run with a single, and Sumrall had fleeting thoughts of a comeback.
But Brown got a called third strike to dash those hopes and clinch the championship.
“We’re going to base next season off this feeling right here,” Phillips said. “This ain’t a good feeling. Hopefully, we can come back.”
Sumrall loses 10 seniors but returns the nucleus for what should be another championship contender in 2022.
“All of our seniors are going to be missed,” Davis said. “They all contributed something for us. The guys coming back need to know how this feels. It sucks to get this far and lose; they just have to keep that in the back of their heads and hope we can get back here next year.”