Fulton, Miss. – For the first time in a decade, the Northeast Mississippi Community College softball team meets its archrival with the highest possible stakes on the line.
The Tigers will visit Itawamba Community College for the opening round of the 2018 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) State Playoffs.
The best-of-three series begins on Friday, April 27 at 5 p.m. and concludes with games two and three, if necessary, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 28 at the ICC Softball Complex.
Every Northeast playoff game will air live and in high definition on NEMCCTV. Tune in starting 10 minutes prior to first pitch for the pregame show by visiting www.nemcctv.com on any computer, tablet or smartphone.
The Northeast Broadcasting Network also includes new radio affiliate WOWL Fun 91. An audio simulcast can be heard on frequencies 91.9 FM from Burnsville, 92.9 FM from Florence, Ala., and 102.3 FM from Killen, Ala.
This is the 16th postseason appearance for the Tigers in 18 years since transitioning from slow-pitch competition in 2001. Northeast finished in a five-way deadlock for fourth in the MACJC standings with a 17-11 record against league opponents.
The Indians are ranked No. 3 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II poll. Itawamba tied with Jones County Junior College for the regular season state championship.
The two longtime adversaries have met in the playoffs just twice before. Northeast has won both previous postseason meetings with each of them coming in elimination contests.
The most recent was in 2008 when the Tigers bested the Indians by a score of 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the MACJC State Tournament, which was hosted that year by Central Division champion Hinds Community College at Clinton High School.
The first playoff matchup between the two schools came in 2003 at the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Perkinston. Northeast run-ruled Itawamba 8-0 on the way to winning a regional title and securing a berth to the national tournament in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The Tigers also hold a 2-1 record in postseason games played in Fulton. Northeast defeated Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Pearl River Community College before falling to Jones County in the 2012 MACJC state championship tilt.
Northeast, which has been ranked as high as No. 17 this year by the NJCAA, leads the all-time series with the Indians by a 41-29 margin. However, Itawamba won both meetings earlier in the campaign by final tallies of 8-0 and 2-1.
But the Tigers have a different look since the last time they journeyed across the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on March 2 to open MACJC conference play. Northeast has four ladies that have worked their way into starting roles that either did not play or were substitutes during that doubleheader.
"Watching the game film and breaking it down, there's a lot of differences in our lineup right now and our team chemistry than when we went over there to open the conference," said Tigers head coach Jody Long.
"It seems like an eternity since we played there. Our freshmen have grown up a lot. Our roles are defined. I look for an exciting weekend. It's going to be a big challenge for us, but we're wanting to take the bull by the horns head on and that's been the mentality of our players."
Northeast has certainly relied on its offense throughout the campaign. The Tigers have connected on 43 total home runs, which ranks ninth nationally and second in the Magnolia State.
Caleigh Wallace has enjoyed a record-breaking freshman season. The Rogers (Ala.) High School graduate has set new school marks for most home runs (16) and RBIs (45) in a single campaign.
East Union High School alumnus Tianna Castillo, who is the reigning MACJC Player of the Week, follows Wallace with nine homers, 16 doubles and a solid .365 batting average during her sophomore year with the Tigers (26-19).
"We're going in fully determined and with a lot of energy," Castillo said. "Our bats are coming alive. Our defense is getting better. I think we're going in there a lot more confident and strong headed."
Breanna Tarpley of Athens, Ala., tops Northeast in the circle with a 7-3 overall record, seven complete games and three saves as well. She has a team-low 2.93 earned run average with 47 strikeouts.
Wallace has also contributed to the pitching staff with five saves, which is fifth most in the NJCAA. Austyn Holden from Coldwater guides the Tigers defensively with only one error in 230 chances for a .996 fielding percentage.
The Indians (37-7) are not as much of a power hitting team, but are effective offensively with a team batting average of .316. Meg Sullivan paces Itawamba with 15 extra base hits and 27 RBIs.
Delta State University transfer Bailie Springfield leads an Indian pitching staff that has a combined 1.62 ERA. She holds an 18-3 mark on the season with 101 strikeouts compared to 29 walks.
The winner between Northeast and Itawamba will meet either Copiah-Lincoln Community College or Pearl River Community College next weekend at the 2018 MACJC State Tournament.