Flashes face down 4th-ranked Sumrall

Published 10:05 am Monday, April 19, 2010

During its march toward history, Sumrall has picked up plenty of fans.

There are those from the Hattiesburg area who have ties to the program. There are fans of baseball in general who were rooting for the Bobcats to continue their state-record winning streak — which ended at 67 games with a 5-1 loss to Oak Grove on Saturday — and surge ahead toward the national record of 75.

And then there are people like the St. Aloysius Flashes, who want their shot at the almost-invincible juggernaut. They’ll get it Tuesday night when they head to Sumrall for a clash of defending state champions.

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“If you can’t get jacked up about playing a team that has a chance to break the national win streak record, something is wrong with you,” St. Al coach Clint Wilkerson said. “But you’ve got to keep in perspective what we’re trying to do here, and that’s playing solid baseball at the end of the season.”

Sumrall has been playing solid ball for the better part of three seasons.

It won the 2008 Class 3A championship, then went a perfect 36-0 on the way to defending its title in 2009. This season the Bobcats are 25-1, with impressive wins over Ridgeland and Oak Grove to its credit, and were ranked No. 4 in the country in last week’s USA Today poll.

Sumrall has scored 310 runs this season, an average of 11.9 per game. Six of its regular starters are hitting .400 or better. Its pitchers have a team ERA of 1.37 and average 1 1/2 strikeouts per inning.

“They’ve got one through nine that would be a star on any team in the state. That’s a fact,” Wilkerson said. “They’ll hit a two-run shot and then lay down a drag bunt. They just do everything right in every phase of the game.”

Despite the incredible challenge ahead of them, the Flashes have been salivating over the opportunity to undertake it since the game was scheduled. As the Bobcats kept up the winning streak, St. Al pitcher Stephen Evans said he and his teammates were rooting for it to continue so they could take their shot at ending it.

“We were pretty jacked up when we saw we were playing them.” said Evans, who will start on the mound Tuesday. “That would be one of the highlights of the season, beating them. It’s probably the biggest game we’ve played other than the state championship.”

Lately, the Flashes have gotten a cruel reminder that they need to step up their game to avoid becoming Sumrall’s latest victim.

St. Aloysius lost four in a row after an 11-0 start, ending its own 15-game winning streak and shaking its confidence. Two losses were to division rival Cathedral, another to St. Andrew’s, a finalist in the Class 2A playoffs last season.

In addition to the game against Sumrall, St. Al played Class 5A power Ridgeland on Saturday and lost 14-4. Although the wins haven’t come, Wilkerson said the tough stretch to end the season was designed to hammer home to his team the level they need to play at to contend for another state championship.

“I think it was a chance to see how we stacked up with the elite,” Wilkerson said. “I like to say to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. If you’re going to do it, they’re (Sumrall) the team to do it against because they are the best.”