I have no idea what Sumrall playing in a state championship looks like. That sounds pretty crazy considering the Bobcats have played for seven state titles since 2008, winning five of those. But they haven’t played for one since I arrived in Hattiesburg nearly four years ago.
Now, Sumrall won a title mere months before I moved here, but it’s been a long four years since it’s graced Trustmark Park with its presence. Finally, I get to see the storied program play for its sixth Golden Glove.
The Bobcats had a stranglehold on 3A baseball in the early portion of this decade, but once they moved up to 4A for the 2016 season, the competition got tougher. Larry Knight and I joked before the season that the championship runs stopped the season I got here, too.
“That’s interesting. That’s something we need to take a look at,” Knight joked in January.
I tell you what, if Sumrall hadn’t beaten West Lauderdale in the 4A South State series this week, I’m willing to bet Knight would have banished me from the field that bears his name. I’d understand, too. After all, baseball is a superstitious sport and I was the common denominator.
“I was going to have a word with you if it didn’t happen,” Knight joked again immediately after Tuesday’s win.
Speaking of Tuesday night, I don’t think I’ve witnessed a better scene at a ballpark in my four years here, and in my six years covering high school baseball. I made it to Larry Knight Field two hours before first pitch and the home stands had already been reserved with chair backs and blankets, and by first pitch, both stands were jam packed with fans lining the fence all the way around the field. There were trucks backed up to the outfield wall and even some fans watching from outstand the gate. Plus, there were probably a hundred or more who were just standing around without a seat.
But on the field, the 4A series lived up to its hype. At the beginning of the season, we all kind of pictured Sumrall and West Lauderdale playing for the south state title, but sometimes the anticipation outweighs the product on the field. It didn’t this year, however.
With the rain postponing Game 1 three straight days, the series started on a rare Sunday night – Mother’s Day, in fact. While I’ve covered many Southern Miss games on Sunday afternoon, it was definitely a different feeling covering a high school baseball game Sunday night.
The series had everything – two walk-off winners by the Bobcats, excellent pitching performances from both teams and strategy by the managers. We got to see all aspects of high school baseball. I mean, it’s not too often you see a pitcher bring a no-hitter into the fifth inning and still lose 10-0 in a run-rule game.
Despite the lopsided loss, and even West Lauderdale outscoring Sumrall 18-10 in the series, the Bobcats are heading to their first-ever 4A State Championship. Of course, they were dominant in 3A, but they haven’t broken through since they moved up classifications four years ago.
While the feeling of celebrating a state championship remained the same Tuesday night, there’s no question this one was the hardest to grab.
“No doubt it’s a tougher road,” Knight said. “It’s our first time, so yeah, it does (feel different), without a doubt. We came close in 2016 and got beat by Newton County that year in three games, so we didn’t want to come out here in another 4A South State and not get it. That was big for us to get over the hump.”
Follow Camal on Twitter via @PineBeltSPORTS or email him: camal@PineBeltSPORTS.com