PEARL – Facing the biggest game of the season, Drake Nightengale demanded the ball.
And when he got it, he delivered.
The Sumrall senior right-hander was dominant Friday afternoon, hurling a three-hit shutout to keep the Bobcats’ season alive with a 6-0 victory over Belmont in the second game of the Class 3A State Championship series at Trustmark Park.
Sumrall (32-5) will look for the school’s fifth state title in the third and deciding game of the series at 10 a.m. Saturday. Belmont (26-5) saw an 11-game winning streak snapped.
“I texted Coach (Larry) Knight (Thursday) and said, ‘I want the ball,’ ” said Nightengale. “And he told me OK. I’d really been pushing for it.”
Nightengale, who has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this season, made his first start of the season one for the ages, striking out nine and walking just one.
“I told him through the playoffs that if we ever got to a do-or-die game, I was going to give him the ball,” said Larry Knight. “And we got to that point.
“We didn’t want to go through a series and not have him pitch. We didn’t want to look back and say, ‘gosh we didn’t pitch maybe our best arm.’ We felt if we were going to go down, they were going to face him.”
The only time he was in serious trouble was in the top of the second, when Luke Alexander led off with an infield single, stole second and took third on an error. But Nightengale (5-0) got a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to get out of the inning.
“I wasn’t surprised, because we’d heard he was real good,” said Belmont coach Andy Deaton. “And he was terrific today. His slider was devastating.”
And after that, the Bobcats got their bats going off Belmont junior Cameron Moore (7-1). In the decisive third inning, Sumrall scored a run on a double by Trace Jordan, and two runs scored on a single by Alex Knight and an error in the outfield that allowed Jordan to score from second.
“We knew we needed to have a good game offensively,” said Jordan. “Score’s 0-0, runners in scoring position; we just needed a big hit from somebody.”
Sumrall added three more runs in the sixth, as Joseph McLaurin and Nightengale had run-scoring singles and Knight drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.