FULTON – The East Mississippi Community College softball team was swept on the road, 7-2 and 6-5, by MACJC North Division Champion Itawamba Community College Thursday afternoon at the ICC Softball Complex.
Despite the sweep, head coach Kyndall White's 25-17 EMCC Lady Lions have clinched the program's sixth consecutive postseason appearance. Now 14-8 in division play with a regular season-ending division doubleheader still slated to be made up Wednesday at last-place Coahoma, EMCC has already nailed down the division's No. 3 seed and will travel to the second-seeded team from the MACJC's South Division for a best-of-three playoff series to take place Friday and Saturday (April 25-26) at a site to be determined.
In Thursday's opener at Itawamba, the Lady Lions played from behind the entire game. ICC took an early 2-0 lead off EMCC starting pitcher Halie Green on a first-inning, RBI single by Emilee Henderson and a Catherine Carver sacrifice fly in the third.
After the Lady Indians went up by three runs with another score in the fourth, the visitors cut the deficit to 3-2 by plating a pair of unearned runs without the luxury of a hit in the top of the fifth inning. EMCC loaded the bases with one out off ICC starting pitcher Hannah Johnson as Green walked while Kristen Mitchell and Corey Dawkins were both hit by pitches. Kasey Stanfield's subsequent grounder to third base resulted in an errant throw to the plate that brought home two runs in an attempt to get the force out. ICC's Cara Hopper then entered the circle to get the final two outs and keep it a one-run game.
Itawamba promptly regained the momentum in the bottom half of the fifth by pushing across four runs with six singles and a sacrifice fly to account for the 7-2 final margin.
In the nightcap, the Lady Indians jumped in front 4-0 with a solo run in the first and three more scores in the third off EMCC starting pitcher Taylor Hackney. ICC's three-run third was highlighted by a two-run single by Kory Watterson.
The Lady Lions finally reached ICC starting pitcher Montana Hawkins with two runs in the fourth inning on an Anna McCrary RBI single followed by a sacrifice fly off the bat of Meri Morgan Fortune to cut the deficit in half at 4-2.
EMCC then claimed its first lead of the afternoon with three additional runs two innings later. After Stanfield opened the sixth with a base hit, sophomore southpaw Jade Albritton, a Wayne County product, tied the nightcap at 4-4 by launching her team-leading fifth home run of the year and seventh of her collegiate career to center field. Three batters later, McCrary, a New Hope High School product, put the Lady Lions on top 5-4 with a two-out solo blast to left field for her first collegiate homer.
The EMCC lead would prove to be temporary, however, as the Lady Indians came right back in the bottom half of the frame. A one-out single by Laken Shankle was misplayed in center field allowing her to advance to third. Heather Dillard's bunt single and subsequent steal of second put two speedy runners in scoring position. Haley Moore, ICC's leadoff hitter, capped a five-hit afternoon with a squeeze bunt that was mishandled at first base allowing both Shankle and Dillard to race around to home and give the lead back to Itawamba.
The visitors did mount a two-out rally in the top of the seventh with a Dawkins single followed by a walk to Stanfield, but Hopper closed out her second game of the day by getting Albritton to fly to center for the final out.
Prior to their scheduled makeup division road doubleheader at Coahoma on Wednesday, the EMCC Lady Lions are slated to travel to second-ranked LSU Eunice for a Saturday doubleheader before heading to Wesson for a Tuesday twin bill against Copiah-Lincoln.