It was Trustmark Park or bust for the Sumrall Bobcats in 2019. The program known for its five state championships had gone three seasons without even playing for one.
They were close in 2016, their first year playing 4A ball. In 2017 and 2018, their senior numbers were low, and that can make things difficult, according to long-time coach Larry Knight.
“Not that it can’t be done with a small group,” he said, “But I think when you have a larger group that’s played a lot, that means more to them, and they realize, ‘This is my last year’.”
In 2019, Knight was coaching double-digit players and 7-8 everyday starters who were experiencing their final go-round as a Bobcat, so there was a sense of urgency to take advantage of their senior-heavy roster and get back to Pearl.
“We talked about the fact that, ‘Hey, this is the year we should be there, this is the year we should win it, this is the year we’ve been waiting on’,” Knight said. “We discussed that and the importance of taking advantage of this opportunity.”
It’s now been two weeks since their season came to an end. Though they fell short of winning it all, the Bobcats made it back to Trustmark Park by capturing the program’s first South State title since 2015. They also won their division after finishing second to county rival Purvis a season ago.
“Number one, it all starts with how we do on the mound,” Knight said. “We had guys that had solid years there. You look at not only what Kros [Sivley], Halen [Sanford] and Hunter [Barrett] did, but also JC [John Cody Stogner] was such a big, big part of our success. And even Billy [Garrity] stepping in and doing a really good job. Our pitchers kept us in pretty much most games. There were very few times where they didn’t keep the opponents down run production-wise.”
On the flip side, the Bobcats raised their team batting average to .304 after hitting .263 last year. They had four players (Garrity, Zane Berry, Graham Crawford and Dannis Jackson) bat at least .327 this past season.
“It was big for us to come back and have a good offensive year,” Knight said. “We had some guys step in and be good leaders for us.
“All these guys really stepped up and had great senior years, and that’s what you hope for. It doesn’t always happen. We’ve had some guys have better junior years than senior years, but when they can let their last year be their best one, normally good things will happen.”
Knight says it was an easy group to coach.
“From a coaching standpoint, you might find attitudes here and there. Even with state championship teams, you might have some guys that are selfish because maybe they didn’t play or maybe they weren’t the guy and things like that,” he said. “But we didn’t have any of that from a standpoint of having to address attitudes and guys that weren’t working hard.
“From my standpoint, it was great seeing these guys have an opportunity to play in that setting and play for a state championship.”
Knight is Sports601’s Baseball Coach of the Year.