Hunter Barrett may have been hitless through three games, but the Sumrall third baseman stepped into the batter’s box Tuesday night for the biggest at-bat of his prep career with a winning mindset and supreme confidence in himself. Tie ballgame, bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, and a state championship berth on the line, those are the kind of moments Barrett says he lives for.
“That’s what makes the game fun,” he said. “I was just looking for a pitch up that I could elevate, and it worked.”
Barrett sent a ball to deep right field and drove in Dannis Jackson from third base on a sacrifice-fly. The play not only completed a seventh inning Sumrall rally for the ages over West Lauderdale, it also gave the Bobcats their first South State title since 2015 with a 7-6 Game 3 win over the Knights, who finish the season 28-5.
Sumrall (32-6) will face New Hope beginning Thursday at 10am for the Class 4A State Championship at Pearl’s Trustmark Park.
“We haven’t been there since 2015,” Sumrall coach Larry Knight said. “You say something like that, and you’re like, ‘That really isn’t that long ago’. But from a coaching standpoint, I think a lot of times we get spoiled, and the fans get spoiled of being up there.
“Going into this year, we felt like this was a senior group that had played a lot, and this was the year we oughta be able to get there and make some damage. They never gave up.”
It certainly looked bleak there for a while Tuesday night. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning thanks in large part to a three-run homer from Graham Crawford in the first, the Bobcats allowed their first run in the third and a five spot in the fourth. In the latter, West Lauderdale cut it to 5-3 off a pair of two-out errors from Sumrall, and the Knights then took the lead, 6-5, with a three-run homer off the bat of Brett Mason.
Mason entered to pitch for West Lauderdale in the bottom of the third, and the junior right-hander followed with four straight scoreless innings and seven strikeouts.
“They made a pitching change, and Mason did a great job and had the big home run,” Knight said. “I knew it wasn’t gonna be an easy game or a 6-0 or 7-0 ballgame. I told them that beforehand. I fully expected them to compete and get back.”
While Mason was piling up scoreless innings, John Cody Stogner did the same for Sumrall. After Billy Garrity allowed Mason’s homer, the side-armer Stogner entered and kept the Knights off the scoreboard the rest of the game.
“He [Stogner] may be 75 max, but be believes he can get anybody out,” Knight said. “He believes he’s the man.”
Stogner worked his first 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh, keeping the Bobcats within striking distance headed to the bottom of the frame. Hayden Barrett kicked things off with a leadoff walk, and Dannis Jackson followed with a single. After Mason recorded a strikeout for the first out, Graham Crawford drove Barrett in with an RBI single, tying the game at 6-6. West Lauderdale proceeded to intentionally walk Billy Garrity and load the bases for Hunter Barrett, who made them pay and completed the rally with his sac-fly.
“It was so big to see that character and heart,” Knight said. “For us to win it in the last half, there’s nothing better. There’s nothing better than having a walk-off. Jubilant for the crowd and the team.”
Especially for Sumrall’s seniors, that jubilation has been a long time coming.
“It’s one of those things we’ve been waiting four years for,” Crawford said. “Freshman year, we were one game away, and two errors made us not make it. But we’ve been fighting every year to come back for it.
“And we’re not done.”