ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - If a school-record 55 wins and runner-up finish in the NJCAA Division II championship isn't enough to validate Jones County Junior College's 2017 season, perhaps the many postseason awards collected by the Lady Bobcats help.
Third baseman Kelly Byrd was named the NJCAA DII player of the year and freshman Karli Perque became the first NJCAA DII pitcher of the year in JCJC history.
"When we were notified last week that they were going to be both pitcher and player of the year, I just thought, 'Wow," said JCJC head coach Chris Robinson. "That's kind of the end to almost a perfect season. Tough not to finish the deal but it's nice to know that these kids are getting recognized for their hard work and the accomplishments that they did."
Byrd and Perque were also named NJCAA DII first-team All-Americans along with teammate Autumn Frost on Thursday.
This marks the first time two players from the same school have received player and pitcher of the year honors in the same season. However, both Byrd and Perque acknowledge that their individual accolades are a reflection of the entire 2017 team.
"Being on a team with everyone who's good, you just want to be up there with them," Perque said.
"Having them, it's been great." Byrd said. "I love each and every one of them. Couldn't do it without 'em."
Yet, it was Byrd's hard work on her own that allowed the sophomore to battle back from injury to hit .492 with 19 home runs and the second-most runs-batted-in (92) in the nation this season.
Byrd joins Tori Dew (2014) and Lauren Holifield (2015) as the only three Lady Bobcats to be named players of the year.
"I want to thank God," Byrd said. "He'll never put you through more than you can handle. I've been through a lot. I've had a lot of injuries. I've overcome them, that's a good thing. It's just a great honor."
"[Byrd]'s been through so much," Robinson said. "She's had four surgeries, shoulder surgeries. Had one in the fall so she missed out on a lot in the fall. And for her to come back in and just have an incredible year, it's just a testament to how tough and how much grit the kid has."
A Terry native, Byrd's career will continue at Delta State University next season while Perque is set to join Southeastern Louisiana University.
Perque posted a perfect 24-0 record, striking out 128 batters with a 1.30 earned-run-average in 2017.
"Working this hard actually throughout my whole life - like that's the farthest I've ever gone," said Perque, a Louisiana native. "And to go that far with my friends and my teammates, it's just an honor."
"[Southeastern's] going to look forward to a kid that's going to be able to get in the circle and command for the ball," Robinson said. "And go and do a lot of things in the Southland Conference. Southland Conference better be ready cause Karli Perque's going to have a great career at Southeastern Louisiana."
As Byrd and Perque move on from Ellisville, their talents will be missed just as they will miss Jones County.
"[I'll miss] everything," Perque said. "My teammates, my teachers, the school, everything. I just love it here."
"The friendships we made, I'm not going to make them anywhere else," Byrd said. "This is home."