'Cats Capture First Baseball Championship

On Friday, B.G. Loftin made the drive from Columbia, Mississippi to Trustmark Park, the site of the Mississippi Class 4A State baseball championship. The last time the Wildcats won a state sports title Mr. Loftin was on hand for that game as well. Back in 1982, Columbia High won the Class A football title behind the talented arm of Loftin's oldest son, Chip.

It was only fitting that B.G. served as a bridge between the decades and between the titles.

While Loftin had more than a casual rooting interest back in '82, he stood and cheered the 2011 Wildcats as they climbed back to the top of the Magnolia State heap.

"This is what we did back then," said Loftin. "We played for state championships."

The early momentum of today's contest clearly belonged to the Vikings of North Pontotoc who built an early 7-1 cushion thanks to some timely hitting and a pair of Wildcat errors.

"We ain't going home yet boys," shouted one Viking supporter. "We ain't done playing ball yet. We are playing tomorrow."

After a couple of innings, a decisive Saturday game looked to be a real possibility.

A two out rally sparked by freshman Hakeem Forbes' two RBI hit got the Wildcats within striking distance.

"I knew we were about to make something happen," said Forbes. "The stands and the fans got crunk. We got crunk in the dugout too."

Before the inning was over, the Wildcats put up a six spot and tied the contest at 7 runs a piece.

Hakeem entered the game as Columbia's third pitcher and eventually became the pitcher of record. The talented ninth grader reports he had a very simple game plan when he took the hill.

"I just did what coach told me to do and that was to throw strikes and let the defense work for me," said Forbes."

The hero of game one was Wildcat senior catcher Forrest Dungan. After Dungan's four hit, five RBI performance on Wednesday, he saw little to hit in the early going on Friday.

"They pitched around me a little bit, I guess you could say," said Forrest. "I have had a lot of walks this year though. It helps the team, so it doesn't frustrate me too bad."

After the Vikings recaptured the lead 9-7, Columbia answered back with two important runs of their own to set up some late inning drama.

With one out in the 8th inning, Forbes laced a triple to left center which put the Wildcats 90 feet away from their first baseball state title.

An intentional walk to set up a double play possibility, brought Dungan back to the plate. As a senior, he knew what his mindset at the plate had to be.

"With a runner on third and less than two outs, our coaches preach to be aggressive," explained Forrest. "We want to hit a ball early. Hit a fastball, really anything you like so you can get a barrel on it.

"I got up there and the first pitch was a curve ball and I took it. Then he came with a fastball and then I felt like a curve ball was coming.

"I just tried to stay back and drive it."

And drive it he did. Dungan blasted a long fly ball over a drawn in outfield to drive in Forbes from third and win the 4A state championship.

Marion County has produced some great athletes over the years, but for Columbia High championships have remained elusive, until today that is.

"This is huge," said Dungan. "You could see today that we had a huge crowd. This is our first state championship in baseball. It's a big deal and our fans came out and supported us."

The talented senior will continue his baseball career next season at Pearl River Community College.

Another long time Wildcat, Columbia High School athletic director Steve Harmon, capped his tenure with the first state title of his Wildcat career.

"I used to say that when we ended a season without some sort of championship that I hated it for the players," explained Harmon. "As a coach, you always figure you're going to get another chance.

"I can't say that anymore because this is it for me. I am retiring and I am looking forward to that, but I am enjoying this championship as much or more than anybody right now."

The chance to go out on top just seems appropriate for Harmon who has dedicated his life to the advancement of Wildcat athletics.

"The Columbia School district has been a great place," said Harmon. "I had three children grow up and graduate in the Columbia school district.

"As an athletic program a lot of schools like to say 'We're a football school, a basketball school or something else.'

"I can promise you this, I don't care if it's tiddlywinks, when it comes to the Columbia High School Wildcats we are going to play to win."

Some where along U.S. Highway 98, I am sure Mr. B.G. Loftin would agree.

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