Biloxi, Miss. – Two of the best pitchers in the Magnolia State went toe-to-toe in the opening game of the postseason for the Northeast Mississippi Community College softball team.
The Tigers' Jessica Boyd was brilliant and tossed her 17th complete game of the season, but Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College utilized a late scoring spurt to take a 3-1 victory on Friday, April 28 on the campus of Biloxi High School.
The Bulldogs lead the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) first round playoff series by a 1-0 margin. Game two begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 29 with game three to follow immediately, if necessary.
Boyd (20-9) set Northeast up for success against nationally ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast by retiring 15 of the initial 17 batters that she faced. She added five strikeouts compared to just one walk and scattered six hits over six innings.
The St. Joseph, Mich., native now has 165 punchouts to her credit this season. That number leads the MACJC and is fifth among all hurlers in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
"The last time we played them, I did not play my best game," said Boyd. "This time I was a lot less nervous and just threw my game. It was a tough loss, but we're looking forward to tomorrow. It's our time to step up."
Boyd's counterpart in Nora Keehn (20-5) put up near identical figures for the Bulldogs (36-10) with six hits, four strikeouts and one earned run in seven innings of action.
The Tigers actually held a lead for a vast majority of the contest after scoring in the first frame. Tia Davis led off the matchup with her 63rd hit of the season, which is tied for the second most in program history.
The infield single, which dropped perfectly between the pitcher and third baseman, also served as the 100th hit of her outstanding career at Northeast. She is the first Tiger to reach this prestigious mark since Bianca Chagolla did so in 2014.
Molly Walden came through in the clutch moments later with a double off the left field wall with two outs to easily bring Davis home and give Northeast (29-20) an early 1-0 advantage over Mississippi Gulf Coast.
"I knew I had one job and I needed to get that job done," Walden said. "I usually don't get pumped about something, but I was coming around second base pumping my fist and jumping up and down."
The Tigers put two additional runners on base in the second following singles by Jamia Kirk and Anna Kayte Webb, but could not extend their lead. Boyd and Keehn then settled in from that point and delivered a stellar showing.
The Bulldogs were limited to two hits through their first five at bats, but eventually pushed three runs across in the sixth on RBI hits from Paige Dill and Izzy Werdann plus a sacrifice fly from Kristen Sexton.
Northeast did not go quietly in the seventh and got the tying run to the plate after Webb one-hopped the wall for a double. But Keehn induced a flyball to halt the Tigers' rally and end the matchup.
"I was very proud of them and their effort," said Tigers head coach Jody Long. "I thought our offensive approach was great. We played a lot better than we did in our first trip here and had every opportunity in the world. Some days you just don't come out on top."
Walden and Webb paced Northeast offensively with two hits apiece. The Tigers were also flawless in the field, which included a beautiful diving catch by Davis in the first inning that robbed a potential double for Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The winner of this series advances to the 2017 MACJC State Tournament, which will be held next weekend at the highest remaining seed after the first round of playoffs is finished.