PERKINSTON – The visiting Lady Lions of East Mississippi Community College couldn't overcome a five-run fourth inning and a stellar relief pitching performance by host Mississippi Gulf Coast in dropping a 9-2 decision Friday night in the opening game of a best-of-three MACJC softball playoff series played at Ross-Smith Field.
EMCC's sixth consecutive postseason softball appearance started off well for the visitors as Kristen Mitchell and Corey Dawkins began the contest with back-to-back hits off MGCCC starting pitcher Emily Davis. Two batters later, Jade Albritton stroked a two-run double to center field to quickly put the Lady Lions on top 2-0.
Gulf Coast cut the early deficit in half by getting one of those runs back in the bottom half of the first on Brooke Gaston's infield groundout after Ashley Hickman and Dani Craft opened the frame with consecutive singles.
In relief of Davis in the circle five batters into the contest, Paige Breal proceeded to shut down EMCC's bats the rest of the way. The freshman allowed only four base runners in 6 2/3 innings of work, giving up just a bloop single to Dawkins in the fifth inning. After their two-run first on three hits, the Lady Lions could only manage to put one more runner in scoring position over the final six innings.
Meanwhile, MGCCC went through the batting order in the decisive fourth inning off EMCC starting pitcher Halie Green. With the bases loaded following a hit, hit batsman and an infield throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Cocoa Bender walked to force in the tying run. In perhaps the key play of the game with one out, Hickman's grounder to short was fielded cleanly by Mitchell. As the go-ahead run crossed home plate, Mitchell's apparent tag out at second base was over-ruled by the umpires. Instead of having two outs in the inning, Craft's subsequent sacrifice fly to left field plated the third run of the inning. Davis then followed with a clutch two-out, two-run single to give Breal and the Lady Bulldogs all the run support they would need with a 6-2 lead.
Gulf Coast, improving to 32-16 on the year, added one more score in the fifth on Brooke Ladner's RBI double and two additional insurance runs in the sixth off Lady Lion reliever Taylor Hackney to account for the 9-2 final margin.
Offensively for the visitors, Dawkins, a Brooksville native, had two of EMCC's four hits in the series opener. In the circle, Green took the loss and fell to 11-11 on the campaign.
Game two of the best-of-three playoff series between third-seeded EMCC (27-21) and second-seeded Mississippi Gulf Coast is slated for a noon start Saturday with a third and deciding game, if necessary, to be played immediately following. The series winner will advance to next week's (May 2-4) MACJC State Softball Tournament to be played at a site to be determined based on this weekend's playoff series action.