Colorado Springs, Colo. - The Northeast Mississippi Community College softball team continues to make history at the midway point of its bounce back 2017 campaign.
The Tigers checked in at No. 17 in the second National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II rankings of the regular season, which were released on Tuesday, March 14.
"This is great for our school, our program and the community," said Northeast head coach Jody Long. "We plan to embrace this and continue to work hard day in and day out throughout the year. Our kids are buying into the challenges."
The Tigers appear in the NJCAA's poll for a second consecutive week. Northeast debuted at No. 16 during the inaugural countrywide top 20 that was published on March 7.
It is the first time ever in the tradition-rich annals of the fast-pitch program, which started in 2001 after transitioning from slow-pitch, for Northeast to hold a national ranking in back-to-back polls.
The Tigers have manifested in two separate NJCAA polls during the same season just once before and that was 14 years ago. Northeast gained its initial ranking on the softball diamond at No. 15 on April 9, 2003.
Northeast temporarily dropped out one week later, but leapt from unranked to No. 7 in the final poll of the 2003 campaign after qualifying for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament at the Rogers Park Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The Tigers are ranked for the first time in eight years. Northeast opened at No. 12 in the NJCAA's preseason poll on January 31, 2009 after winning its seventh Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division championship during the previous campaign.
Northeast has already exceeded its win total from one year ago. The Tigers have captured 17 victories with still one month to go in the regular season and the heart of the MACJC schedule ahead.
The Tigers started the season by claiming six of their initial seven contests. Long himself became the winningest headman in program history after capturing his 257th victory on opening day at Dyersburg State (Tenn.) Community College.
Northeast went on a separate six-game winning streak to end the month of February. That included a three-game sweep at the Rush Invitational in Meridian where the Tigers defeated then-No. 19 Heartland (Ill.) Community College.
The improvement by Northeast is evident in the numbers. The Tigers' batting average and on-base percentage have both increased by nearly 50 points while the slugging percentage has risen by slightly less than 100 points compared to 2016.
Northeast's pitching has been better across the board as well. The Tigers have compiled a team earned run average (ERA) of approximately 3.50, which is 70 points better than last season.
The four shutouts tossed by Northeast's pitchers is ninth best in the entire nation. The Tigers also rank among the top 25 offensively in doubles, extra base hits, hit by pitches, sacrifice flies and runs scored.
The softball team is the fourth sports program at Northeast to carry a national ranking during the 2016-17 academic year. They join football, golf and men's basketball.