Press release from JCJC athletics
ELLISVILLE – The MACJC softball championship trophy is back home.
Fifth-ranked Jones County Junior College received another sterling pitching performance from Rachel Hayes and blanked No. 3 Mississippi Gulf Coast 2-0 here in the tournament championship game on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Community Bank Park.
It was the fourth time in five years for the Lady Bobcats to claim the state championship.
"It feels wonderful," said JCJC head coach Chris Robinson. "I am so proud of our team. We beat a very, very good team and had to beat them twice in back-to-back days. I feel especially good for our sophomores who had to go through getting knocked out of this tournament last year.
"This is very, very sweet for them."
Hayes, a sophomore righthander from Ocean Springs who is headed to Southeastern Louisiana University in the fall, threw her third complete game of the tournament.
She allowed no runs, seven hits, walked three and struck out five in the title game and improved to 24-1 on the season.
"She is such competitor," Robinson said. "Nothing ever gets to her."
JCJC took a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Natalie Hogue led off with a single and was replaced by courtesy runner Skyler McLain. After a strikeout, Hayes helped her own cause with a double into the leftfield corner.
Ashley Valentine then executed the squeeze bunt perfectly. Pitcher Kaitlin Lee fielded the ball and made the decision to come home, but it was too late and McLain scored.
In the fifth inning, Jay Harris led off with an infield single and stole second. Kalyn Watts sacrificed Harris to third.
With the infield playing in, Cori McCrary bounced a single over Lee's head into centerfield to give the Lady Bobcats a 2-0 lead.
But there was plenty of drama left.
In the top of the sixth with one out, Deborah Elmore hit a drive down the leftfield line, but Harris went to her knees and made the catch. That was huge because MGCCC followed with singles by Hannah Melendrez and Izzy Werdann.
Camry Griffith then lifted a ball over McCrary's head at shortstop. But McCrary ran back and made the over-the-shoulder grab and collided with Harris for the final out of the inning.
"The ball Cori caught was huge," Robinson said. "I knew if she could get to it, she would catch it because she is so athletic."
In the top of the seventh, MGCCC's Alyssa Hardy led off with a single. Hayes then got a strikeout, but Lee followed with a single. After Brittany Cooley lined out to McLain for the second out, Lexie Mathis stepped up to the plate.
Mathis drove the ball deep to the outfield. But centerfielder Kalyn Watts made the catch up against the wall to end the game and the Lady Bobcats celebrated with a dogpile on the infield.
Watts' catch capped another errorless game defensively for JCJC.
"I thought it was gone, but when Kalyn camped under it and squeezed it, I knew we had it," Robinson said of the game's final out. "It's a fantastic day to be a Bobcat."
McCrary and Hogue each singled twice for JCJC, while Hayes and Kelly Byrd doubled. Harris had a single.
Lee, 21-3, went six innings and took the loss. She allowed two earned runs, seven hits, walked none and struck out two.
Lee singled twice for MGCCC, while Mathis, Melendrez, Werdann, Hardy and Murphy added singles.
Both JCJC and Mississippi Gulf Coast will now head to the Region 23 Tournament at LSU-Eunice May 6-8.
The Lady Bobcats will be the top seed in the event and will play No. 4 seed East Central at 1 p.m. on Friday. MGCCC, the No. 2 seed, will play the nation's top-ranked team and the No. 3 seed in the regional – host LSU-Eunice – at 3:30 p.m.
"We are going to enjoy this today, but we are going to get on the bus and go and try to win two games to qualify for nationals," Robinson said. "We are going to have to regroup and refocus quickly, but we are going to enjoy this."
The top two teams in the regional will advance to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament May 18-21 at Traceway Park in Clinton.