Meridian, Miss. – Caleigh Wallace got the job done at the plate and inside the circle to lift the Northeast Mississippi Community College softball program to one of its biggest wins of the young season.
Wallace launched two home runs offensively and also recorded the save for the Tigers as they knocked Calhoun (Ala.) Community College from the unbeaten ranks with a 7-3 victory on Friday, February 23 at the Rush Invitational.
Northeast's offense toiled through eight consecutive scoreless innings to begin its day at the Meridian Community College hosted tournament. The Warhawks were able to take a 2-0 lead during that dry stretch by the Tigers.
But Wallace finally delivered the shot that lifted Northeast out of its doldrums. She blasted a solo home run over the centerfield wall on the sixth pitch of the fourth inning to get the Tigers on the scoreboard for the first time.
Northeast went on to tie the game later that inning. Tianna Castillo followed Wallace with a single and two batters later slid into home safely just ahead of the throw on a sacrifice fly from Austyn Holden.
Wallace then delivered two key insurance runs for the Tigers with a moon shot over the left field fence. Her fourth home run of the young campaign lifted Northeast ahead 5-2 after four-and-a-half innings.
"I knew I needed to set the tone and just be a leader on the team," said Wallace. "One hit led to another. I just had to have an aggressive approach at the plate. I was pretty excited about it."
Wallace also finished the job on the pitching rubber with three scoreless frames of relief work. She scattered two walks and one hit to earn her third save of the year, which is tied for the most in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
"I cannot fail," Wallace said. "I've got to be the one to do it. It's all or nothing. I'm very thankful for our staff this year. I'm sure they'd do the same for me. We work good together."
Darcie Gibson (1-0) earned her inaugural collegiate victory for the Tigers. She got Northeast out of a bases loaded and nobody out jam with no damage done in the third inning upon entering the game out of the bullpen.
"It feels really good," said Gibson. "I knew my defense had my back behind me so I just needed to throw strikes and get us out of the inning. We were fired up pretty good. It was big to see us work as a team and finish the game."
Tarpley put the contest out of reach for the Warhawks (6-1) in the final frame with a two-run home run that barely stayed inside the left field foul pole. It was the initial long ball of her collegiate career.
Northeast 10, Spoon River 4
The Tigers returned to the diamond following a nearly five-hour break between contests and set a season-high for runs scored and tied a yearly best for most hits in a game with 12 against the Illinois-based Snappers.
Northeast capitalized on a six-run second inning to give itself an early cushion. Dill and Tarpley had back-to-back run scoring doubles while Shaquera Wilson capped that spurt for the Tigers with a two-RBI single.
Dill achieved a personal milestone two frames later when she shot a line drive past Spoon River's right fielder. She rounded the bases and slid into home safely for an inside-the-park round tripper, which served as the inaugural home run of her entire softball career.
"Honestly, I hit that ball and I was like, 'Go, go, go!" Dill said. "I knew I was going to get a triple out of this, but when (assistant coach Kevin Connell) said keep going I kept running then. I guess he trusted my speed. It just came out of nowhere and I was super excited about it. It's crazy, especially at this level."
The Snappers (1-7) plated three runs in the bottom of the fifth, but Northeast responded immediately with three of their own in the ensuing inning. Rebecca Sheffield did the most damage with a two-RBI base knock that brought home Lizzy Van Manen and Tarpley.
Wallace rounded out her outstanding day at the ballpark by scoring the final run of the contest for the Tigers (6-3) when she touched home plate standing up on a wild pitch.
Tarpley (1-1) retired the final seven batters that she faced to receive the win for Northeast. Callie Fraizer secured her first-ever start for the Tigers and conceded one run and four hits over two innings of action.
Eight different Tigers had at least one hit versus Spoon River while 16 different players took the field. Tarpley paced Northeast with her second three-hit outing in as many games.
"Early (in the day), we made some mistakes and didn't execute very well," said Tigers head coach Jody Long. "We're a team that plays well when we play well offensively. We got the bats rolling in the second game. We had a chance to play everybody and see some people in different positions.
"We're a young team that's still growing. This tournament is usually big for us each season because it really helps our team start coming together. We're finding a way to bring this together as a team."
Bossier Parish 8, Northeast 0
The Tigers did not score in their first of three matchups on the day at the Northeast Park complex. It was the first time for Northeast to be shutout since last March in game one of a doubleheader at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Mackenzie Denton (2-1) was the pitcher of record for the Tigers. She drew the start and threw the initial 2.2 innings with only three earned runs allowed, one walk and one strikeout.
The Cavaliers (10-1) led throughout the matchup after leadoff batter Shelrika Bryant hit a solo home run. Bossier Parish padded its advantage with five runs in the third inning with all of them coming with two outs.
Northeast got runners into scoring position in both the first and third. Tarpley opened the bottom of the third with a double, but could not advance further after the Cavaliers recorded three consecutive outs.
Dill got the Tigers' first at bat underway with an opposite field single and Tarpley followed her with a walk. However, a double play erased Northeast's momentum and helped Bossier Parish escape without any harm done.
Tarpley went 7 for 10 at the plate in the trio of contests for the Tigers with three doubles and one home run. Wallace was 4 for 7 with multiple walks to go alongside her pair of long balls against the Warhawks.
Northeast begins Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) play on Wednesday, February 28 at Itawamba Community College. First pitch for the doubleheader is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Fulton.