Photo/Zac Chamblee

Seventy-two hours later, Sumrall’s much-anticipated South State playoff series with West Lauderdale began, but Graham Crawford’s success against Knight pitchers in crunch time continued. 

A year after hitting a game-winning home run in the second round of the 4A playoffs versus West Lauderdale, Crawford drove in all three of Sumrall’s runs Sunday night at Larry Knight Field, including the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth inning. The sacrifice-fly scored Hayden Barrett from third base and sent the Bobcats to a 3-2 win over the Knights in Game 1 of the Class 4A South State championship series. 

Originally scheduled for Thursday, the game was postponed due to rain three times leading into the Mother’s Day matchup. 

“Sitting there getting ready every day and then rain comes every single day, it’s not fun,” Crawford said. “But, I’m glad we came out here on a pretty night like tonight and got the job done.”

Now, the Bobcats (31-5) are one win away from making their first trip to Trustmark Park since 2015. 

They were held in check by West Lauderdale starting pitcher Ben Ethridge, a Southern Miss signee, the first four innings of Sunday’s game, but one swing of Crawford’s bat shifted the momentum. With the Knights ahead 2-0 behind a pair of solo homers, Crawford tied it up in the bottom of the fifth inning with a two-out, two-run single. 

“I was looking fastball,” Crawford said. “On the first at-bat, he [Ethridge] blew one by me. I thought I was right on it and just missed it a little bit. I knew I couldn’t let him sneak one by me again. He grooved one, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”

Three scoreless innings ensued. After issuing a two-out walk and giving up a single in the top of the sixth, Sumrall starter Hunter Barrett was replaced on the mound by John Cody Stogner. With three straight strikes to start his outing, the junior side-armer stranded the two baserunners.

In the top of the seventh, West Lauderdale’s Mason Willis led off with a single, and his pinch-runner advanced to second on a groundout and third on a wild pitch. Two Stogner strikeouts later, the Bobcats were out of another jam, and the game remained tied at 2-2. 

“He [Stogner] doesn’t get fazed and is tough to hit,” Sumrall coach Larry Knight said. “He’s been that way for us all year.”

Knight made the call to his bullpen, though, with one away in the top of the eighth, taking advantage of a lefty-lefty matchup with Kros Sivley throwing to Braden Luke, who hit one of West Lauderdale’s solo homers earlier in the game. But after Sivley got a flyout and groundout to end the frame, Stogner was back out there to start the ninth, where West Lauderdale eventually loaded the bases with only one out. Stogner recorded his fourth strikeout of the game for the second out and got the very next batter to fly out to end the frame. 

“He [Stogner] has been the guy that comes in and gets the job done,” Crawford, Sumrall’s starting catcher, said. “The curveball was working real well tonight, and I couldn’t ask for anything better from him.”

Sumrall took advantage of the tie game in the bottom of the ninth. After three straight walks, the bases were full of Bobcats with only one out as Crawford stepped to the plate and into a spot he had hoped for. 

“I was just trying to calm myself down because there was a lot of adrenaline running,” he said. “I told the whole team before the inning, ‘Look, if you get me up right here we’re gonna win this ballgame, we’re gonna win it in this inning’.”

Crawford proceeded to send a ball in the direction of West Lauderdale’s right fielder, who made a sliding catch for the second out of the inning. However, it was deep enough for Hayden Barrett to tag up and score the game-winning run from third base on a sacrifice-fly. 

“Most everybody thought that ball was dropping in,” Knight said. “He [Barrett] hung in there and didn’t sprint off the bag. He tagged up and is super fast, so I knew they were not gonna throw him out in that situation.”

Game 2 is scheduled for Monday night in Collinsville.

As for who the Bobcats will start on the mound in that one, Knight says they will have options. 

“I don’t even know who’s throwing tomorrow yet, but we’ve got guys,” he said. “Halen Sanford’s had a great year, and there’s Kros [Sivley] and Billy [Garrity] also, so there’s three guys right there we can pick from. We’ll have to talk about that and see. We feel very good about the fact we’ve got several guys to pick from.”

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