Booneville, Miss. - The Northeast Mississippi Community College softball program made great strides last season after capturing a national ranking for the first time in eight years and once again reaching the postseason.
The Tigers aim to continue building upon that solid foundation with a 2018 schedule that features nine opponents that appeared in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) poll during the previous campaign.
"I think it's as competitive as anything we've put together," said Northeast head coach Jody Long. "Our conference is so tough, so to play quality teams early on and put our kids in some battle tested areas will be beneficial to us."
The Tigers are slated to open at home for the first time since 2005 on Tuesday, February 6 when Motlow State (Tenn.) Community College comes to town for the inaugural meeting between the two institutions on the diamond.
Nine of Northeast's initial 11 games of the new campaign will take place in the City of Hospitality. That includes contests against Dyersburg State (Tenn.) Community College and Bevill State (Ala.) Community College, which is restoring its softball program after a seven-year hiatus.
Local softball fanatics are in for a treat from February 16-17 as the annual TigerFest Tournament returns to the Booneville City Park complex with three total fields seeing action.
Northeast welcomes ball clubs from five states in the Midwest and Southeast for 29 games over a two-day period during what is widely considered as one of the top events in the entire country.
The Tigers also participate in the Rush Invitational one week later on Friday, February 23 with matchups versus Northwest Florida State College, Wallace State (Ala.) Community College at Dothan and Motlow State.
The national flavor to Northeast's schedule concludes during spring break when Des Moines Area (Iowa) Community College visits Booneville for a twinbill. The Tigers will play opponents from six total states during the first half of the season.
Play inside the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) begins on Wednesday, February 28 when Northeast travels to rival Itawamba Community College for a second consecutive year.
The Tigers' first home conference games are set for three days later versus Meridian Community College on Saturday, March 3. Northeast also hosts reigning state champion Jones County Junior College later that month on the 23rd.
Other keynote dates on the calendar include when the Tigers have a chance at revenge against Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, who eliminated them from the MACJC state playoffs one season ago following a great series in Biloxi, at home on Thursday, March 29.
Northeast will honor and recognize its outstanding sophomore class before the start of the final regular season doubleheader on Saturday, April 21 versus Hinds Community College.
"I was really impressed with this group in the fall," Long said. "They've bought into our blue-collar work ethic mentality. Our kids are starting to understand they have certain roles and they're gonna accept them and really be successful."
A best-of-three elimination round kicks off the playoffs over a two-day span from April 27-28. The lowest remaining seeded team will host the MACJC State Tournament the following week.
The top three squads from the state playoffs plus Louisiana State University at Eunice then clash in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament from May 10-12. The winner and runner-up advance to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament at Clinton's Traceway Park.