‘Pressure is on them’

SPRINGVILLE – Bryan Buckner isn’t overwhelmed at the prospect of his team playing undefeated Sumrall, the defending state champion.
In fact, the fourth-year South Pontotoc coach says all the pressure is on the Bobcats, who are 34-0 entering tonight’s Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 3A state championship series.
“The pressure is on them because they are trying to maintain their undefeated season,” said Buckner, who during Wednesday’s workout wore a red T-shirt with the words “2009 3A North State Champions” inscribed on it.
“We know going into it that we have a monumental task ahead of us. So, we can relax and play ball.”
What should help South Pontotoc (22-13) against a talented Sumrall squad is the fact that they are a scrappy ballclub. The Cougars had to battle through a tough beginning of the season and two three-game playoff series against Houston and Mooreville.
“I knew we had some scrappy guys and some talent, but the beginning of the season didn’t start off as strong as it had ended,” said Cougars senior catcher David Bowen. “It was really a tough route to get here.
“I knew we had some guys who could compete.”
Leading those guys is Bowen, who is as tough as they come. A line-drive foul ball in batting practice broke two places in his eye socket two days before the Houston series. The senior still didn’t miss a game that series.
In the ensuing celebration after the final out of that series, the Itawamba Community College signee suffered a hip pointer. Banged up, he still played every game against Mooreville in the state semifinals.
“He’s just a gutsy player, an all-around great player,” Buckner said.

Catching a day off
After South Pontotoc beat Mooreville in Monday’s Game 3, Buckner decided to give his players a much-deserved day off on Tuesday.
“It was mentally and physically draining,” Buckner said of the Mooreville series, “but we’ve had the rest of this week to rest up. We didn’t even practice yesterday (Tuesday).
“I thought the rest would do more than the practice.”
Mooreville fans, especially, know how good Sumrall has been since the end of last season. After all, the Troopers lost last year’s state championship series to Sumrall.
South Pontotoc senior pitcher Sam Cruse also knows the great success Sumrall has had, but added that his team has been playing exceptional baseball of late.
“We’re playing good baseball right now,” said Cruse, tonight’s Game 1 starter for South Pontotoc. “We got hot pretty quick towards the end of the year.
“I feel like we got a good chance, I really do. They’ve been really successful and so have we.”

At Trustmark Park, Pearl
- Game times: Game 1, today at 7 p.m.; Game 2, Saturday 1 p.m.; Game 3 (if necessary), Monday TBA.
n South Pontotoc probables: Game 1, Sam Cruse, RHP, 9-4; Game 2, Heath Kitchens, RHP, 7-5: Game 3, TBA.
- South Pontotoc leaders: RHP Sam Cruse, 9-4, 3 saves, 5.91 ERA, 80 strikeouts; C David Bowen, .370 batting average, 13 HR.
Sumrall leaders: LHP Luke Lowery, 12-0, 1.81 ERA; SS/P Chase Lewallen, .433, 5 HR, 36 RBIs.
Last championship series appearance: South Pontotoc, 1996; Sumrall, 2008.

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal