SUMRALL – Hunter Barrett found himself at the bottom of a dogpile Tuesday night, and there was no place he’d rather be in that moment.
He entered his at-bat in the bottom of the seventh 0-for-10 from the plate in the 4A South State series with West Lauderdale. That statistic didn’t change either after he sent a sacrifice fly to right field. It doesn’t matter to the Sumrall senior, though, because it was enough to score senior Dannis Jackson to send the Sumrall Bobcats to the 4A State Championship series.
Sumrall claimed the 4A South State title with a 7-6 win over the Knights Tuesday night. It’s the first time the Bobcats will play for a 4A title since moving up classifications prior to the 2016 season, and it’s the first championship berth since the team won it all in 2015.
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“Man, this feels awesome. The awesomest feeling I’ve ever felt,” Barrett said. “I’ve had a rough series. I haven’t gotten a hit this whole series. I came up with a confident mind looking for a pitch up. I lifted it and we scored.”
For a moment, it looked like Barrett had a walk-off grand slam. His 0-1 pitch was sent to deep right field, but he’ll settle for a walk-off sac fly instead.
“Off the bat, it crossed my mind, but hey, I’ll take a sac fly any day,” he said.
The Bobcats saw their early 5-0 lead evaporate in the fourth inning. The Knights scored one run in the third inning and five more in the fourth off Sumrall starter Billy Garrity, and all of this was happening as West Lauderdale reliever Brett Mason was dealing on the mound.
After West Lauderdale grabbed the lead, Mason put four straight zeros on the board and retired 12 of 13 Sumrall batters until the seventh inning. Sumrall got its first five runs of the ballgame in the first two innings off West Lauderdale starter Mason Willis.
“He was throwing a great game in relief,” Sumrall coach Larry Knight said. “We just felt like if we could get somebody on and make something happen, the pressure kind of got to him in that last inning. Our crowd was unbelievable.”
In the bottom of the seventh, the Bobcats’ offense picked up the intensity. Sophomore Hayden Barrett led off the frame with a four-pitch walk, then Jackson singled to the shortstop by simply using his speed to beat out the throw.
Mason got a strikeout for the first out, then senior Graham Crawford had a seven-pitch at-bat that ended with an RBI single to right field that tied the game at 6-6. Senior Billy Garrity was walked for the fifth time in the series to load the bases.
That set up Hunter Barrett’s game-winner.
“When we had first and second with no outs, I felt really good about our chances with those guys coming up, honestly,” Knight said. “I didn’t see him striking out those guys like he’s been doing.”
Sumrall got the scoring started early with four runs coming in the first inning and one more in the second. Jackson and senior Zane Berry started the game with a double and a single, respectively, before Crawford sent his ninth home run of the season over the brand new scoreboard in right field. Senior Mason Story later doubled in the frame and scored after senior Tanner Morgan singled during the next at-bat.
Hayden Barrett came around to take a 5-0 lead in the second inning after West Lauderdale’s would-be double play to end the inning was thrown away.
West Lauderdale punched back in the fourth, though. The Knights cut the lead to 5-3 with two outs with the help of two Sumrall infield errors, then Mason sent a three-run homer to right to give the Knights their first lead of the game, 6-5.
“The defense kind of let us down that inning, and they had the big home run,” Knight said. “They did a very good job of taking advantage of the mistakes we made. You hate to say this, but they really had a couple of turf hits. You hate to have that when it’s your home field and your guys are used to playing on that.”
Stogner in relief
Garrity was still in the game pitching when Mason hit the home run, and Knight admitted to going back and forth in his head about putting junior JC Stogner in the game.
“I almost pulled Billy to come in and face the kid who hit the home run, but honestly, Billy was throwing well,” Knight said. “It wasn’t his fault.”
Stogner entered to pitch after the home run and promptly got a pop up to end the fourth inning. He worked the final 3.1 innings of the game while allowing just two hits and no runs. He also struck out a pair of Knights and walked just one.
“JC Stogner, he’s incredible,” Knight said. “He’s done a great job for us all year.”
Stogner had to match Mason inning for inning, too. While Mason was keeping Sumrall off the board, Stogner was as well. He doesn’t worry about his counterpart, though.
“Not really,” he said. “I mostly try to talk up our hitters and try to get them focused.”
Sumrall (32-6) will match up with the New Hope Trojans (25-5) in the 4A State Championship series later this week. Game 1 is set for 10 a.m. Thursday with Game 2 scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. If necessary, Game 3 will be Saturday, and that time will be set after the conclusion of Game 2.
The Trojans swept Pontotoc in the 4A North State series, and they’re currently on a nine-game winning streak. With a team batting average of .320 and a team earned run average of 2.95, senior Tyler Murphy (.429) leads New Hope at the plate while senior Payton Springfield is the ace on the mound. Springfield is 10-1 on the season with a 1.38 ERA, 95 strikeouts and 24 walks.
New Hope played for a state championship last season, but it was swept by Vancleave.
With a two-day turnaround, Sumrall will enter the state championship down a couple of arms. Only sophomore Kros Sivley and Garrity are unavailable for Game 1, but both are options for Game 2.
Hunter Barrett, senior Halen Sanford and Stogner are all available for Game 1.