By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Sports experts like to predict the near future and things that will happen down the road.
In March, most baseball minds in the area forecasted District 13-3A coming down to the defending champs Dyer County Choctaws and the upstart Munford Cougars.
Then a possible X-factor could be the Hardin County Tigers. The fourth team, the Brighton Cardinals, were called young and full of potential for the future.
Fast forward to April 18, the Cougars of Head Coach Jake Garbuzinski were doing their part as one of the top teams in the league. Munford arrived to the Brighton Baseball Field trying to keep their hopes of a district title alive.
But the Cardinals were in the opposing dugout sitting in first place unbeaten in district play. Brighton’s mission was simple in the Tipton County showdown, win and you are the 2016 District 13-3A regular-season champions.
Brighton took care of business winning 8-4 over the Cougars, behind the pitching of sophomore Brett Wilkins, the defense of players like Chase Kidd and Eli Davis and a big second inning of offense. Standing on his home field as the newly crowned district champs had Coach Wick all smiles.
“If you would have asked me earlier that in the year, I would have giggled and chuckled saying ‘I hope we’ll be there,’’ Wickersham acknowledged. “I thought we were one year away being so young. But these guys kept believing. When they play as a team as they did tonight, we can play against anybody. They showed it tonight.”
The youthful Cardinals were ahead 1-0 after the first inning when Matthew Jacome crossed home plate on a passed ball. That set the table for a big second inning. Brighton tallied 5 runs in the frame starting with Jacome smacking a double to score a pair of teammates.
After a Matthew Smith sacrifice fly made the score 4-0, Cardinal freshman Dalton Rushing singled in another runner. The final blow of the inning came courtesy of a Will Dunlap sac fly to make the score 6-0.
Munford finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth inning when Austin Perry doubled in teammate Jacob Sawyers.
The Cardinals added some insurance in their part of the fourth inning with Garrett Dawson double scoring Cole Wilkins and Dunlap to make the score 8-1.
Those runs proved to be important with the Cougars mounting a rally in the sixth inning. Perry drove in a run to make the score 8-2. Then Austin Cousar smacked a single to drive in a pair of runs to make the score 8-4.
Brett Wilkins settled down and recorded a strikeout to close out the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, Wilkins shutdown Munford in order to lock down the regular-season crown.
“We had the stomach virus,” Wickersham noted. “We had two starters who weren’t even here tonight. They came here, ‘Next man up.’ They knew how important tonight was. And they just pulled it off. I just stood over there and sometimes sit on the bucket.”
From the bucket, third base coaching box and pacing the dugout, Wickersham witnessed Wilkins’ solid performance from the mound striking out six Cougars.
The second inning produced 5 runs with a big hit coming from Rushing. And throughout the contest the Cardinals were in the right place catching hard-hit balls off Munford bats.
Davis made several running catches in centerfield neutralizing potential Cougar rallies. The sophomore proved why he’s on the radar of The University of Memphis.
“He went from gap to gap,” Wickersham recalled. “He gave us an opportunity to win the ball game tonight and give our pitcher an opportunity to go out there and throw strikes.”
Earning the top seed in the upcoming District 13-3A Baseball Tournament, expectations have changed for the Cardinals.
“We have to stay even keel,” Wickersham said. “We talk about that all the time. We talked about it at the beginning of the year of being an process oriented team instead of a result-oriented team. It’s starting to stick with them.
“They know the process,” he concluded. “Yes, we beat a great team tonight. And it was a process involved in that.”