Sumrall's Crawford clutch, dominant in final season

By CAMAL PETRO,

Senior Graham Crawford was a major piece to the puzzle for the Sumrall Bobcats this season.

On a loaded roster, the switch-hitting catcher came up with many clutch moments throughout his career. Whether it was throwing out runners trying to steal a base or blasting home runs in the 4A South State series, the Bobcats probably wouldn’t have gone as far as they did without him.

Even the smallest things, Crawford did it right. That includes receiving complex pitch calls from Sumrall coach Larry Knight.

“I don’t think he missed any signs this year, and normally that’s a big deal,” Knight said. “If a catcher can go through the year and not miss any of my signs, that’s pretty awesome. It can be confusing.”

Crawford was a menace at the plate and a nightmare for opposing pitchers. He could destroy a pitch from either side of the plate, too, which is something he learned in tee ball. He mashed nine home runs and led the Bobcats with 49 RBI while hitting .330 from the dish.

A natural left-hander, Crawford got tired of hitting grounders to the pitcher and first baseman. In tee ball, those are usually the best players on the team. It’s extremely rare for a tee ball third baseman to scoop up a ground ball and throw a runner out at first, and Crawford had already built up enough baseball knowledge to understand that fact.

“I said, ‘Dad, I’m done. I don’t want to hit left-handed again,’” Crawford recalled. “I turned around (to bat right-handed) and it just came naturally. I hit right-handed until my eighth-grade year.”

While he hit more right-handed growing up, he hits more left-handed now because there are more right-handed pitchers at the high school level. Admittedly, he said he hardly ever hits right-handed in the batting cage unless Sumrall is facing a lefty, which doesn’t happen too often.

The Bobcats will take his left-handed stick, though. In the south state series with West Lauderdale, Crawford made his presence known in clutch moments. In Game 1 of the series, he picked up all three RBI, including the game-winning sacrifice fly to right. Trailing 2-0, he tied the game with a single up the middle, then won it in the ninth inning a couple of hours later.

In Game 3, Crawford blasted the longest home run he’s ever hit. He easily cleared the scoreboard in right field, and when he was told where it landed, he was shocked. The ball almost reached the tree line well beyond Larry Knight Field’s wall.

He admired the pitch before he started to run toward first, and there wasn’t anyone at the stadium that could blame him for the slow start around the bases. 

“I have a picture of where the ball went over the scoreboard and I didn’t believe it,” Crawford said.

The only statistic that isn’t impressive during his time at Sumrall was his baserunning stats. That’s because of the 61 times he reached base – that weren’t home runs – this season, Crawford had a courtesy runner because catchers and pitchers are allowed that luxury. To Crawford, though, it wasn’t a luxury.

“And nine times out of 10, I’m faster than my runner coming in,” Crawford joked. “They were better base runners than me because I hadn’t done it in four years.”

Not only was he dominant at the plate, but he was also just as good behind the plate. Crawford made it difficult for teams to steal bases, and that’s something he takes pride in.

“I take pride in knowing anybody who gets to first, they have no chance to get to second,” Crawford said. “Now, a lot of that has to do with our pitching staff. They hold runners extremely well. Probably one of the best pitching staffs in the state in holding runners, and it helps me out a lot.”

Speaking of pitching staffs, Crawford had the pleasure of catching a group of pitchers this season that combined for a 1.78 earned run average with 240 strikeouts. In fact, one of the best moments of the season was catching Hayden Nored’s five-inning perfect game against Oak Forest.

The sophomore struck out 10 of the 15 batters he faced that day, and Crawford was enjoying his view from behind the plate.

“That’s one of my best friends and you don’t catch your buddy’s perfect game every day,” Crawford said. “That was really the only game he threw. I told him, ‘You have the stuff to do it, you’re just going to have to out there and do it.’ I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Going into the season, however, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to play catcher that much. Due to two knee surgeries in the offseason, returning by spring break was optimistic. Even then, the doctor thought catching twice a week was all he could do.

Crawford had a broken bone on his femur going into his patella, and surgery was required to fix the issue. He had his first knee surgery in September then followed that up with a second one in December, and he still doesn’t know how the injury happened.

“I’ve had it for like five years,” Crawford said. “I just had bad knees. It’s good now, 100 percent. I can do stuff now that I’ve never been able to do with my right leg.”

The Pearl River Community College signee is ready to get to the next level. He kept a close eye on the Wildcats during their run to the NJCAA World Series, and even received a message from assistant coach Anthony Izzio a day after Pearl River exited the tournament.

“Coach Izzio texted us (the day after the loss) and said, ‘I hope y’all are ready to work,’ and everybody is pumped,” Crawford said. “To be down there in that atmosphere, it’s going to be awesome.”