Josh Dowdy was emotional, but not because his Pontotoc baseball team had just been swept in the Class 4A state finals by Sumrall on Thursday. His tears were a product of something much deeper than a game's result.
Back in December, Dowdy's wife Ashley was diagnosed with breast cancer. Baseball suddenly became a lot less important. And yet, it became as important as ever.
"We were playing this year for a bigger purpose," Dowdy said as he clutched the state runner-up trophy, and then he got choked up. "Lot of personal stuff, but these kids, they got me through it."
With Ashley undergoing chemotherapy treatments, Dowdy became stretched thin both at work and emotionally. He wasn't sure if he could do his job.
"I knew it was going to be a tough season, and even when I explained to the kids what was happening, I was afraid that I was going to have to miss some times," Dowdy said. "And there were some times that I was late for practice, and my coaches are the best coaching staff, I think, ever. They took up some slack for me for having to be absent sometimes."
The Dowdys also got support from the local baseball community, and from around the state. And the Warriors kept on winning. They swept reigning state champ West Lauderdale in the semifinals.
Sumrall, which lost only one game all season, proved to be too much. Dowdy was at peace with that.
Mind you, this is a coach who has won two state titles — one at Bruce (2012) and one at Kossuth (2016). He's used to winning.
"I tell people, this isn't the best team I've ever coached, but it's the best unit, the best family as a team that I've ever coached," he said. "Everybody gets along, they push each other. They expect greatness out of each other, and it's made my job a lot easier."
Ashley's chemo is winding down, and Dowdy said she is "for the most part healthy." She was supposed to have a treatment on Friday but instead came to Pontotoc's game.
"My wife, she's stronger than anybody I know," Dowdy said, "because she allowed me to be out here and coach these guys."