SUMRALL – The seniors for Sumrall High well remember the feeling of getting so close to a championship and coming up short.
Two years ago, when those seniors were sophomores, the Bobcats won the Class 4A South State title over West Lauderdale in dramatic fashion but were then swept in the state championship series at Trustmark Park by New Hope.
So, with a chance for redemption, Sumrall is taking nothing for granted. Tuesday night against Purvis, the Bobcats spotted the Tornadoes four runs in the top of the first inning, then rolled to 17-5 run-rule victory at Larry Knight Field.
Sumrall, No. 4 in the Mississippi Gridiron/Capital Sports statewide rankings, and No. 1 in Class 4A, improved to 17-2 overall and 4-0 in Region 7-4A. Purvis dropped to 9-8 and 3-2.
“These guys are my ambassadors of grit,” said Sumrall coach Andy Davis. “We get after it. We work hard, run the bases; we’re a blue-collar team. We don’t hit a lot of home runs, but we pitch and play good defense.”
Davis, who took over the Bobcats after Larry Knight resigned to accept an assistant coaching position at Jones College, had the interim tag removed from his title a few weeks ago. He has a team that certainly looks capable of making a deep run in May.
“We slacked off a little bit early in the season, but come region we’ve started to get locked in,” said senior Ty Little, who had five RBIs for Sumrall. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can win state if we stay locked in. I think the only way we lose is if we beat ourselves.”
Nevertheless, Purvis came out swinging in the first inning off Bobcat junior right-hander Levi Odom.
With one out, senior Hunter Robinson blasted a solo home run to leftfield, then sophomore Damon Putnam reached on an error. Odom got an out on a fielder’s choice, but Jacob Parker pulled the first pitch he saw into the rightfield corner for an RBI double.
Parker’s twin brother, Jo Jo – they’re both eighth-graders, by the way – drove in a run with a single, and senior Riley Garner made it 4-0 with a single.
That lead evaporated in a hurry, as Sumrall scored five runs – four of them unearned – in the bottom of the inning.
“We came out on fire and played a great game for half an inning,” said Purvis coach Tony Farlow. “After that, it was all Sumrall. I don’t want to take anything away from Sumrall, but we extended a lot of innings.
“I just felt all night we were playing on our heels, trying to get out of innings. And a lot of was things that could have been avoided if we just make a few plays.”
With one out, junior Hayes Raner drew a walk off Tornado senior left-hander Damen Piercy (2-1), stole second and third on a wild pitch.
Piercy looked like he might get out of trouble by getting a strikeout, but then hit Sumrall cleanup hitter Hayden Nored with a 1-2 pitch. Junior Cade Dedeaux beat out a ground ball to shortstop that scored Raner, then the wheels fell off for Purvis.
Odom reached on an error to get another run home, Little had an RBI single and two runs scored when a pickoff throw to second base hopped past the centerfielder’s glove and rolled all the way to the fence.
Sumrall added two more runs in the second, when junior Ethan Aultman drew a leadoff walk, went to second on an infield out, took third on a single by Raner and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of junior Marshall Phillips.
The Bobcats might have had more, but Nored was thrown out at second base trying to extend an RBI single for the final out of the inning.
After Purvis got a run in the top of the third on a hit batter, a passed ball and a run-scoring single by Jacob Parker, Davis called Nored to the mound in relief.
“(Levi) didn’t have his best stuff tonight, and I knew in the bullpen (before the game),” said Davis. “I wish I’d gone with my gut. I’d already told Nored that he was probably coming in early because I had that feeling.”
Nored, a senior right-hander, was expected to be a main cog on the Sumrall staff this season, but a pinched nerve in his neck set him back, and he’s been strictly a reliever so far.
“He told me, ‘it’s your ball,’” said Nored. “I knew I had to go in there and get outs. That’s my job. I’ve got to be a reliever right now, until I can get my arm back in shape.
“I’ve never seen a group like we have. We hit, we pitch, and it seems like we can put it all together. I think the senior leadership has been a big key.”
Nored (1-0) did was he was called upon to do, retiring nine of the 11 men he faced on just 33 pitches, giving up a hit, striking out two and walking one.
That was all that was required, because the Bobcats blew the game open in the bottom of the third, as 13 batters came to plate, scoring eight runs on five hits and a Tornado error.
Dedeaux hit the first pitch of the inning into the gap in right-centerfield for a double, then Odom walked, signaling an end to Piercy’s night. Junior Walker Flatt was greeted in relief with a triple by Little to drive in two runs.
“I was just trying to hit something hard, into the gap,” said Little. “I was looking to drive in some runs. It didn’t matter how.”
Flatt was able to get a strikeout and a groundout to first base, but Sumrall leadoff batter Hayden Barrett drew a walk, an error extended the inning and the floodgates opened.
Phillips drove in two runs with a single, Dedeaux had an RBI single and Little drove in two more runs with a single.
“Sumrall is where they are, 17-2, for a reason,” said Farlow. “They’re a good team, and you can’t make mistakes like that against a good team.”
After the only 1-2-3 inning by either team in the top of the fourth, the Bobcats added two more runs for a little extra cushion in the bottom of the inning.
Aultman led off with an infield single, stole second, took third on a balk and scored on a sacrifice fly by Barrett. A pair of two-out walks gave Dedeaux an RBI opportunity, and he delivered a single for the final run of the game.
Sumrall is not the only championship-caliber team in Class 4A, with potential South State foes Northeast Jones, Vancleave and Stone also looking good. But Davis likes his team’s chances come May.
“That’s the end goal, getting back to Trustmark,” said Davis. “We’ve all got these wristbands that have #grit and #78. It’s 78 miles from our locker room to Trustmark, so that’s our plan.”