When Graham Crawford moved to Sumrall from West Jones four years ago, he was quickly introduced to the expectations that come along with being a Bobcat baseball player. Upon setting foot on Larry Knight Field for the first time, he was greeted by a billboard in right field which named off the program’s accomplishments one by one, including five state championships.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that losing is not accepted here,” said Crawford.
“You’re always gonna have guys coming in from the past saying how good they were, and that’s always what you wanted to be. You wanted to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I won a state championship, I was on this wall’.”
Two weeks ago, Crawford’s high school career came to an end. All told, he was a part of 103 wins, 3 division titles and a South State championship at Sumrall, but the Bobcats were unable to add a sixth state championship to the wall. They were two wins shy of doing that in 2019.
After going 24-3 in the regular season and taking fans on a wild postseason ride to Trustmark Park, the Bobcats were swept by New Hope in the Class 4A State Championship series.
“At the beginning of the year, we said our goal was to win a district championship because we didn’t win it the year before, but our goal was to always win a state championship,” said Crawford. “We knew we had the talent, and we knew we had the heart and everything to win a state championship. Just at the end, we couldn’t pull it out.”
Regardless, it was a memorable season for the Bobcats and for Crawford, who raised his batting average 73 points from junior to senior year. Crawford, a catcher, signed with Pearl River Community College in the offseason that separated the two seasons.
“Last year, I felt like I pressed a lot, just trying to show everybody how good I was. This year, I was already committed and where I wanted to be. I just went up there and played hard everyday and just tried to help my team win.”
Crawford highlighted Sumrall’s senior-laden lineup by hitting .330 with 9 homers and 49 RBI, as the Bobcats reached Trustmark Park for the first time since 2015. They got there by beating West Lauderdale in South State, where Crawford, again, proved clutch in big moments. About a year earlier, his sixth-inning, solo homer propelled the Bobcats to a 1-0 playoff win against West Lauderdale.
This postseason, Crawford picked up right where he left off against West Lauderdale. In Game 1 of South State, he drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice-fly and sent Sumrall to a walk-off win. Twenty-four hours later, West Lauderdale responded and forced a decisive Game 3, where the Bobcats were eventually put on the ropes. With Sumrall down 6-5 and two outs away from elimination, Crawford stepped into the batter’s box and into another big spot, as baserunners Dannis Jackson and Hayden Barrett waited at first and second base, respectively.
“That’s something you literally dream about as a kid, so having that opportunity, you just have to show up with the crowd going crazy and the team hoping you come up big,” said Crawford. “You’ve done it once, you’ve done it twice, now you gotta do it again a third time. It’s just gotta happen.
“Luckily, I made it happen.”
Crawford’s RBI single brought Barrett home and tied the game at 6-6. Two batters later, Hunter Barrett scored Jackson with a sacrifice-fly, and the Bobcats were Trustmark Park bound.
“It was a great experience playing at such a big field. It hurt us in some ways and helped us in others, but it was definitely a great atmosphere,” said Crawford. “The crowd was crazy, the fans were awesome, and having that opportunity to play at a park you always watched games at as a kid and wished you could play there one day was really cool.”
Crawford is Sports601’s Baseball Player of the Year.