Lady Bobcats ready for state softball tournament
Written By: Shawn Wansley
Email Address: email@example.com
Date Submitted: 2011-04-27 13:48:44
By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – The Jones County Junior College Lady Bobcats have had a remarkable 2011 softball season.
But they still want more.
“When we started back in August, our goal was to make the state playoffs,” said second-year head coach Chris Robinson Tuesday morning in the Lady Bobcat Softball Office. “We have made it, but our kids are not satisfied. You can tell by the way we are practicing and the way we are getting ready for this tournament that we want a championship,
“They have worked really hard and we are awfully proud of them. But we still see a hunger in them.”
The Lady Bobcats will open play in the MACJC State Tournament at 4 p.m. on Thursday vs. Itawamba Community College at Ross Smith Field on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. The game will be audiocast on www.jcjc.tv with an airtime of 3:55 p.m. Lance Pittman will be calling the play-by-play.
JCJC owns a 32-12 record, which is a school record for victories. It is also their first-ever appearance in the state fastpitch tournament and the team achieved its first-ever national ranking earlier this season when they were rated No. 17.
Robinson said several factors have contributed to the success of this year’s team, but it all comes to two basics of the game: pitching and defense.
“That’s it,” he said. “Pitching and defense. We have not hit the ball as well as I would have liked to this year. At times, we have and at times, we have not. We have been a little lax in the last four games with that, but we knew we were in the playoffs.
“Our kids may have relaxed a bit too much. But we talked about that yesterday at practice.”
JCJC, who received votes in the latest NJCAA poll, relies on two freshmen pitching standouts from Louisiana: Ginger Lonergan from Dominican High School in Gretna, La., and Lauren Candies from Hahnville High School in Luling, La.
Lonergan is 16-4 with a 1.39 earned run average (ERA), which ranks 16th in the nation, and Candies is 16-8 with a 1.96 ERA. Lonergan is also 16th nationally in strikeouts with 145 in 140 2/3 innings.
“Those two are going to keep us in the game,” said Robinson. “Ginger is a battler and she can overpower you. Lauren may give up a few more hits, but she has been really good. They don’t walk a lot of people and they are both going to be around the plate.
“They are going to always give us a chance.”
In the outfield, the Lady Bobcats have three sophomores – Kayla McDaniel in rightfield, Heidi Garcich in centerfield and Mallory Cowart in leftfield. McDaniel is from East Central High School in Hurley, Garcich is from Riverside Academy in Reserve, La., and Cowart is from South Jones.
Cowart is second on the team in batting average (.398) and leads in RBIs (28) and hits (53).
“Kayla has been phenomenal,” Robinson said. “She has three or four assists in the outfield. Heidi gives us great speed in centerfield and Mallory has been tremendous in leftfield. We are fortunate to have those three out there.”
Around the infield, the Lady Bobcats will have freshmen K.T. Perkins at third base, Alex Faciane at shortstop, Haley Brooke Smith at second base and Stacia Whitaker at first base.
Sophomore Shannon Mosley started most of the season at second base, but injured her right hand vs. Southwest on April 12. She will return to the lineup as the team’s designated player this week. Smith has performed quite well at second since Mosley’s injury.
“I can’t talk enough about Haley Brooke,” Robinson said. “She has come in here since the injury to Shannon and has played an exceptional second base, so much that we are probably going to let her play there in the state tournament. Mosley will be the DP. K.T. has had her ups and downs, but she ends the game against Pearl River with a walkoff home run (a 4-3 JCJC win on April 22). Alex has done a great job at short and Stacia is solid at first.”
Mosley is from Quitman High School, while Smith and Whitaker are from Enterprise. Perkins is from Gulfport and Faciane is from Slidell High School in Slidell, La.
Mosley leads the team in batting (.435). Faciane (.353) and Smith (.333) are also among the team leaders.
Behind the plate, West Jones freshman Jessmar Walters has been a steadying influence, while Greene County freshman Jade McLeod has also been a solid contributor.
Columbia freshman Jasmine Jefferson and Raleigh freshman Brittany Daniel have been used frequently as courtesy runners.
“We’ve had a lot of role players, like Jasmine, who have really helped,” Robinson added. “But really, everybody has done well for us. It’s been a great group and I’m proud of them.”
Itawamba will provide a test in the tournament for JCJC. The Lady Indians are 28-17 and are used to making trips to the postseason. In a doubleheader last year, Itawamba beat Jones 3-2 and the Lady Bobcats won game two, 5-0.
Chelsea Lukens is the ICC ace pitcher. She owns a 14-5 record and ranks 15th nationally with a 1.37 ERA. ICC’s Kimmy Nicholson is the nation’s leader in stolen bases with 48.
“We can’t take anyone lightly, of course,” Robinson said. “Itawamba comes in 28-17 and they are just as good as any team we will see. I know they have a pitcher in the top 20 in ERA in the country and they have a kid that’s at the top in stolen bases.
“They will be a well-coached team. Coach Chad Case does a great job with them and we are going to have to play for seven innings.”
But this will be a new experience for Robinson and the Lady Bobcats. He knows everyone – including himself – will experience some ‘state tournament jitters.’
“I was talking to Scott Hill, the head coach at East Central, the other day and asked him, ‘What time do we get there? We’ve never been before!’ and he kind of told me what to expect,” Robinson said.
The tournament format is an eight-team, single-elimination event. The JCJC/Itawamba winner meets the Gulf Coast/Northeast winner at noon on Friday in a semifinal game. The tournament championship is slated for 5 p.m. on Friday.
Robinson has tried to keep it simple for his team.
“If you win three, you get a ring,” he said. “That’s kind of what we have been telling them. But it’s going to be a tough tournament. If we win Thursday, we get the Gulf Coast/Northeast winner and if you win that one, you will get somebody just as good.
“It’s a three-game brawl. You have to get your intensity up for three games and anything can happen. Just look at last year. Pearl River goes in as the No. 4 from the South, they get hot, win three games and they are wearing a state championship ring right now.”
But the Lady Bobcats are hoping the season continues after this week. Just one victory in the state tournament guarantees them a spot in the Region 23 Tournament May 5-7 at Traceway Park in Clinton.
“We are certainly trying to get to regionals,” Robinson said. “That would be another first for the program.”
The regional tournament is a six-team, double-elimination event. The top two teams from the regional will advance to the NJCAA Division II World Series May 18-21 in Normal, Ill.
But right now, Robinson has his team focused on the state tournament.
“We are going to do our best to bring a championship back to Jones County,” he said. ““We are definitely looking forward to the challenge.”
All Lady Bobcat games in the state tournament will be audiostreamed on www.jcjc.tv and updates are available on Twitter at jcjc_athletics.
MACJC State Softball Tournament
At Mississippi Gulf Coast CC
Ross Smith Field
East Central, South No. 2, vs. Northwest, North No. 3, noon
East Mississippi, North No. 1 vs. Pearl River, South No. 4, 2 p.m.
Jones County, South No. 3, vs. Itawamba, North No. 2, 4 p.m.
Miss. Gulf Coast, South No. 1, vs. Northeast, North No. 4 , 6 p.m.
JCJC/Itawamba winner vs. Miss. Gulf Coast/Northeast winner, noon
East Central/Northwest winner vs. East Mississippi/Pearl River winner, 2 p.m.
Championship, 5 p.m.