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By STAN CALDWELL – Herald Correspondent
SUMRALL – It’s always a battle when Sumrall and Greene County hook up in the playoffs, and it was no different Tuesday night.
The Bobcats rode another strong effort from Drew Davis and got some timely hitting in key moments to overcome the Wildcats 5-3 in Game 1of the Class 4A second-round playoff series at Larry Knight Field.
Sumrall, the defending 4A state champs, improved to 24-5 and can advance to the third round against the either Pass Christian or Newton County with a win in Game 2 Friday night at Leakesville. The Wildcats (12-16) must win Friday to force Game 3 Saturday back at Sumrall.
“When the brackets come out and we see we’re matched up with the Coast, probably, in the second round,” said Sumrall coach Andy Davis. “Greene County’s a team you don’t want to play in the first round, second round, any round.”
“We know they’re going to give us all we want. Their record might not show it, but they’re a lot better team than what their record says.”
There was no doubt that Greene County wasn’t fazed by the atmosphere Tuesday night, and kept their poise against one of the top programs in Mississippi.
“We’ve been in this atmosphere before,” said Greene County coach Nick Chatham. “This is a tough place to play. I’m looking at the (South State and State Championship) signs out there and they’re going to have to build some more.”
“But my kids are never overwhelmed by that. I was proud about that. I think we can play with them. I don’t think they’re better than we are, so I think we can go toe-to-toe with them.”
Sumrall won on the effort of Drew Davis, the eighth-grade standout who improved his record to 12-0 for the season. Davis mixed an 85-plus mph fastball with his curve to keep the Wildcats guessing.
“It was really fun out there,” said Davis, who allowed five hits, struck out nine, walked two and hit a batter. “I was just getting it done, getting some strikeouts and letting them hit weak flyballs and weak groundballs. It was just a really fun game.”
Davis shrugged off an early mistake after getting two quick outs to open the game. Wildcat senior Phillip Herring torched the first pitch he saw from Davis and sent it well over the leftfield wall four his fourth homer in three games and eighth of the year. Davis appeared a little rattled as he hit the next batter, senior Luke Barfield.
But Sumrall senior Barrett Breazeale ran down a hard-hit ball that appeared to be headed for the gap in left-centerfield to keep the score at 1-0.
“I hit the wrong spot,” said Davis. “I threw it right where he wanted it, rather than off the plate where I wanted.
“But other than that, I hit my spots. I was really able to set up my curveball with the fastball. It really kept them off balance.”
The Bobcats went right to work in the bottom of the inning off senior right-hander Collin Pipkins.
Breazeale led off by reaching on a bad-hop single off the bag at second base, and senior Landon Hollimon hit a towering fly that banged off the wall in leftfield for an RBI double, and senior Walker Long made it 2-1 with a single up the middle.
“Collin’s a great pitcher,” said Hollimon. “We knew that coming in. We knew we had a tough game, but the coaches got our minds right and we came out swinging.
“I knew I had a piece of it when I hit it. This whole team feeds off each other. One person gets a hit, then another and it gets contagious.”
The Sumrall coaches preached a patient approach against the seasoned Pipkins, a Jones College signee who was the winning pitcher last year when Greene County handed the Bobcats their only loss of the season.
“He’s a bulldog,” said Davis. “I swear, I think he’s been playing for them for 10 years. Before the game, we talked about how we wanted to get his pitch count up, take some pitches, and think that’s what happened.”
Pipkins got a break when the runner at second was picked off the bag, and he got a pair of strikeouts to end the inning. But even those were productive for Sumrall, because he needed 15 pitches to get them.
Chatham said Pipkins had a little trouble early adjusting to the mound on the all-turf infield at Sumrall.
“The first inning, he was struggling with the mound, getting adjusted to it, and he said his front foot was slipping,” said Chatham. “He went in and changed cleats, settled in a little bit, but lost it again.
Pipkins (7-3) got through the second inning without issue, but he lost command of the strike zone in the third, walked the first three batters of the inning. After getting an out on a blooper to second, junior Cade Clinton drove in two runs on a seeing-eye single up the middle.
Pipkins reloaded the bases with another walk, but avoided further damage by getting a strikeout and fortunate carom off the wall behind home plate on a passed ball allowed Wildcat catcher Izayah Jordan to tag out the runner trying to score from third.
After 90 pitches, Pipkins was done on the mound, and Chatham said he should be ready to go again if the Wildcats force Game 3.
Sophomore right-hander Landon Green came on in the fourth and went the rest of the way. He surrendered a leadoff home run to Hollimon, but otherwise kept Greene County in the game.
“That was my first one ever in a game,” said Hollimon. “I actually thought the first one I was gone more than that one. I thought that was just a popup.
“Every time we play them, they bring it. They know what we have and we know what they have. This was a really good game tonight.”
That run came in handy as the Wildcats rallied in the top of the sixth. Barfield hit the first pitch of the inning into the gap in left-centerfield for a double, then Jordan poked a single through the hole on the left side, with Barfield holding at third.
Davis got a pair of outs, but junior Peyton Errington slapped an RBI single into rightfield and ball got away from the fielder to allow the second run to score. However, Davis got a strikeout to end the inning and his night’s work.
Senior left-hander Keaton Mauldin came on for the seventh in relief and struck out the side for his fourth save of the season.
Davis hopes his team can hone its killer instinct to avoid a winner-take-all game on Saturday, but Chatham thinks his team can bring the series back to Lamar County. He’ll send junior Brayden Bufkin to the mound to keep the Wildcats’ season alive.
Davis said he was undecided about his pitcher for Friday, other than it will not be Drew Davis.
“I honestly don’t know,” said Davis. “Jack Miller started the last game (against Richland in the first round). We’ve got Leo Odom, we’ve got Landon Hawkins, and we’ve even got Mauldin, who could go again. So we’ve got some options.”