SUMRALL – Andy Davis swore he wasn’t starting to panic when his Sumrall Bobcats fell behind 6-1 in the third inning Thursday night.
But he would have had good reason to panic if he had, because he’d just watched his best pitcher give up his third two-run home run of the game – after not giving up a single longball all season.
However, Sumrall didn’t get where it is as the third-ranked team in the state by panicking over adversity, and the Bobcats got up off the mat, rallying for a dramatic 7-6 triumph over Vancleave in the second round of the Class 4A baseball playoffs at Larry Knight Field.
The victory in the opening game of the best-of-three series puts Sumrall (26-2) a win away from advancing to the state quarterfinals. Game 2 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Vancleave, and the Bulldogs (21-7) must win to extend the series to a third game.
“Man, we took some Mike Tyson punches there,” Davis said. “For them to hit three home runs off a kid who hadn’t given up any home runs, they were haymakers.
“But it’s like I told the kids, you’re not going to chop down a tree with one lick. You’ve got to chop at it and chop at it. We were able to chip away at it, then it gets to be our normal game, and we can relax and go back to where we were in the first inning.”
Senior left-hander Kros Sivley came into the game with a 0.63 earned-run average, but he was rocked early.
Vancleave senior Kade Carpenter smack Sivley’s second pitch of the game into centerfield, but was erased on a pickoff play, and it’s a good thing he was, because after surrendering a walk, Bulldog senior Jansen White hit an opposite-field bomb to rightfield.
In the second inning, after a leadoff single, it was junior Carson Robb who went deep, another opposite-field shot to right. In the third, a leadoff walk was followed on the next pitch by yet another opposite-field homer to right, this from senior Christian Kell.
“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Sivley said. “I was so shocked; I didn’t know what to do. But, yeah, my confidence was completely gone at that point.
“But I got in the dugout and started breathing, relaxing, we got a couple more runs, and told myself, ‘OK, we’re in this. I know what to do now.’ I started bearing down after that.”
In the bottom of the second, though, the Bobcats scratched out a run on a one-out double by senior Ty Little, who scored with two out when sophomore Walker Long beat out slow roller to third, the first of two critical hustle plays that paid big dividends for Sumrall.
Still, Sivley was on the ropes covering up in the top of the third after Kell’s home run. With one out, two infield singles and a hit batter loaded the bases, and at that moment a pitcher’s best friend showed up for Sumrall.
Sivley got a double-play ball to shortstop from Robb, and the Bobcats turned it efficiently, getting out of the inning with no further damage.
“Obviously, you work on double plays every day in practice,” Davis said. “In high school, they can be hard to turn, because certain things have to work out.”
The Bobcats immediately started taking advantage of their good fortune in the bottom of the third.
Sumrall’s leadoff batter, junior Hayden Barrett, smacked the first pitch of the inning from Bulldog ace Noah Nicholson into rightfield for a single. He advanced to second on a groundout and scored when senior Hayden Nored just did beat out a two-out grounder to shortstop.
Given a chance to hit, junior Cade Dedeaux made the most of it, smoking the next pitch over the leftfield fence for a two-run homer.
“I was looking for something to hit hard, and I got first pitch,” Dedeaux said. “It was a straight fastball, right down the middle. I saw exactly what I was looking for, and I put the bat on it.”
Now trailing by just two runs, things reverted to normal for Sumrall, as Sivley found his groove and the Bobcats could play the style of ball they’ve become accustomed to playing.
“When we’re only down two, then we’re going back to our bunting, our base-running, and treating it like our normal game,” Davis said. “When I went out in the third inning, I’m usually out there hollering, but this time, I didn’t panic. You want to play for three games, so I needed to save some arms. So, I was at peace with him being out there. I knew he had it in him.”
Over the last four innings, Sivley (6-2) allowed just two singles and a walk, struck out 10 of the 15 batters he faced and was never in serious trouble the rest of the way. He finished with 13 strikeouts for the game.
“I knew we’d win after we got those runs to get back in the game,” Sivley said. “I got my confidence back and just tried to blow it past them.”
Sumrall wasted no time in tying the game in the bottom of the fourth, helped by a pair of defensive lapses by the Bulldogs.
Leading off, Long reached on a dropped third strike, then Nicholson overthrew the first baseman on a sacrifice by junior Ethan Aultman, sending pinch runner Brandon Harrison to third.
Courtesy runner Liam Munn took second on another passed ball and both runners scored on Barrett’s single up the middle.
“We all have confidence in Kros,” Dedeaux said. “We knew he was going to come around. We never got down; we didn’t panic. We knew we had to keep fighting, battling every pitch and see what happens.”
Until the seventh inning, it became a battle of aces, as Nicholson matched zeroes with Sivley.
But after getting two quick outs in the bottom of the seventh, Nicholson surrendered a walk to Dedeaux – and in the process reached his pitch limit of 125, forcing him from the mound.
Robb, coming from behind the plate in relief, got a 2-2 count on Little, but the Bulldogs allowed Dedeaux to steal second and he scored the game-winning run when a groundball to shortstop was misplayed, the third error of the game for Vancleave.
It made Nicholson (7-3) the hard-luck loser for the Bulldogs. He finished with six strikeouts and walked two.
If needed, Game 3 will be back at Sumrall at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The winner of this series faces the winner between North Pike and Newton County in the next round.